Speed and Strength training is often overlooked in youth sports. Most parents wait until their child is more developed, or in high school before they begin to consider speed and strength training. There seems to be an overall lack of education among sports programs on what the benefits of training are. And no, its not just about getting faster and stronger. This lack of education will not only result in a lack of huge performance increases but could also result in higher risk on injury.
Strength training is probably the best thing you can do to decrease risk of injury. Many injuries that occur in sports are simple overuse injury. Repetitive motions completed over and over without the proper strength will result in excess inflammation and will require time off. When we strength train, our muscles, tendons, and joints grow stronger and more resilient to these types of injuries. Not only are we more resistant to overuse injuries, but bones, muscles, joints, tendons, and ligaments all get stronger and are more resistant to injury. Through strength training, we can help decrease the amount of bone breaks, joint sprains, muscle strains and ligament injuries.
Proper speed training (emphasis on proper) can also help prevent injuries as we teach our youth athletes how to properly align the body and fire the correct muscles at the appropriate times. Learning better sprint technique will help keep the hips and hamstrings happy and learning how to set the body up for change of direction will save your ankles and knees.
Through playing sports, it is common to see athletes with limb imbalances in strength or flexibility. Through sports and repetitive movements, we tend to get stronger on one leg, one arm, or flexible on one side and not the other. This imbalance could cause some major issues down the road if not addressed. The sooner you can begin balancing out the body, the easier it will be to maintain balance across strength and flexibility, and this could avoid some major setbacks that could occur in a young athlete’s career.
Obviously, we can expect to see our youth gain strength and speed with training, but that isn’t actually the main goal in the beginning. In developing athletes, we have 2 main windows of opportunity. The first window of opportunity is between 6-8 years old in girls and 7-9 years old in boys. During this first window, our main goals are motor skill development, neural activation improvement, increasing sprint speed and explosive strength. Any strength training done during this first window of opportunity is to prepare the body and learn to coordinate muscles for the next phases of training. With the right speed coach, we can see dramatic increases in sprint speed and explosiveness while also increasing balance, coordination, and body control.
The second window of opportunity is where we see most people begin to think about adding strength and speed training to their child’s sports development, completely neglecting the first window. The second window of opportunity, occurring around 12.5 years old in girls and 14 years old in boys, is where we see large increases in strength, power and explosive strength, as well as a second boost in speed and agility performance. This time period normally coincides with puberty.
The earlier an athlete begins training, the faster they begin to add separation between themselves and their peers. With early training, strength, speed, and injury preventative qualities are exponentially increased and could lead to much higher chances of playing sports at the next level.