Common Sense Training Approach For Youth Sports


Common Sense Isn’t So Common in Youth Sports

I know this title could go so many places within the youth sphere. Today I am referring specifically  to the proper (what should be) basic training for our youth athletes. There is a behavior many parents in youth sport todaytake that( from my perspective) simply means  we can’t make up our minds,receive and or digest real experts opinions and make informed choices base on hard facts. To many  simply decide or default to figure  it out as they go. Believing whatever pit falls have been  they for other athletes have to do  with “other”athletes will never have to do with mine.

Here’s what I mean. In the media we often read of  so called experts complaining about starting to early in sports, but most sport enthusiasts’  with their kids in tow ignore what the “to early experts” have to say and dive head first into soccer at two years old t-ball at three years old. While I have no personal feeling for a “truly fun” outing for a toddler, trying to teach skills that these small children yet to master is futile and a complete waste of time. Conversely a child that is 5-8 starting early sports could be a good thing if it is done right.

 What is sports done right? My opinion, just as many well respected doctors and experts agree is that sports done  right is to train basic movement skills before rigorous competition as the basis of  sport early on. Common sense should lead most to understand that if a child masters basic movement skills they should improve over all  athletic function with less injury and more fun because of this mastery as the years progress.

Many children today are playing sports that don’t yet have the full physical capabilities and mastery of  for a host of reasons.

To name a few .. age, improper training, no training ,no progressive systematic training based on biologic development(which is an individual approach to the athlete not to an age group).

In a recent article by Vern Gambetta  he writes alot that should be followed and I couldn’t agree more. The article is focusing on girls in soccer and basketbal but could easily be any athlete.

“It begs a simple question: Do these players have the physical competencies and fundamental movement skills necessary to compete? We know they have the basketball, soccer, or specific sport skill, but do they have the underlining physical competencies and movement skills to give them a fair change to avoid injury? Part of the solution is quite simple – identify and assess the physical competencies. Then train those competencies in parallel to the sport skill. The dark hole is what is being done in the off-season, preseason and in- season in regard to strength training. In many situations strength training is only done in the off-season, reduced in pre-season and almost nonexistent in-season.

For the female athlete a commitment to year around strength training is a requirement, not an option. It must continue in-season through the championship season. Unlike her male counterpoint that has a great percentage of muscle mass and higher testosterone levels, the female cannot afford to take off from strength training. Obviously the greatest investment should be on leg strength. The great majority of ACL tears are noncontact and in most of those cases they are a deceleration injuries (As are ankle sprains). It stands to reason then that we should focus on training the decelerators. Stop focusing on the knee and think kinetic chain, emphasize the linkage of ankle, knee, hip and the trunk. The knee is stuck in the middle; it is at the mercy of the joints above and below”

The article goes on to say 

“The sports that put the knee at greatest risk are sports that require quick starts, stops and changes of direction off one leg onto the other leg. This dictates that the training emphasize work on one-leg and reciprocal movements. The single leg squat is the cornerstone (True single leg squat, not some of the permutations labeled as such), lunges in all planes and step-ups at various heights. Double leg squats are important, starting with body weight and progressing to appropriate loads based on developmental level and sport demands.

Dynamic balance should be part of daily warm-up, as should a mini band routine to work the intrinsic muscles of the hip. Once a foundation of leg strength is established then progressively add agility work that starts with known programmed movements and progresses to random chaotic movements. Incorporate jump rope as a means to teach good coordination and foot strike. Progress to multi dimensional jumps and hops.

The clincher here is that this must be systematically addressed in the female athlete starting just before puberty.(highlight is mine) Think of it as preparation to play the game that runs parallel to skill development. In most cases it should slightly precede skill development. The two must go hand in glove, not either or. The functionally strong young female athlete will be more receptive to skill learning and be better able to apply the skills to the game. TRAIN TO PLAY, DON”T PLAY TO TRAIN!

Select movements that link and connect the ankle/knee and hip as a functional unit to reduce and produce force. Include exercises that have a high proprioceptive demand”

read the entire article here


So there you have it, we really should be training our girls  with a focus toward just before puberty and taking advantage of her inpending biological change.  Helping to enhance her strength as she progresses in her chosen sports.


  1. You make some good points here. Certainly, children must learn how to move their bodies at a young age. But during childhood, this should happen mostly through play and exploration, not training. The difference comes not only in the types of activities chosen, but also in the mood. For years, I have been able to train professionals to use FUNction Coachable Moments to help guide the movement exploration of children during game play. This method will be on the market later this year.

    This article says “DON’T PLAY to TRAIN, TRAIN to PLAY”. That sounds nice, and sounds “tough”, and sounds like this really sage point. But it comes from a person who doesn’t actually understand play, or how adults can guide children in the development of skills through play.

    I think that we are so focused on creating prodigies, that we forget to let the natural abilities of a child develop. I see a youth sports climate that almost, in many cases, looks like panic.

    I make this point not about you, Lorraine, but about the climate overall. The fact is, if children get an active, playful experience from infancy, and there are no gaps in this – they will likely be great movers. Instruction should NOT be non-existent during the childhood years, just sparing. I would hate to see a climate where we begin focused training with 8-9 year olds for the purpose of playing a sport. Formal sport is certainly only one aspect of movement experience. There is so much more. I love sports, but when we look at a few select sports as a necessary end all be all experience for all children, it makes me sad, because this just isn’t the case.

    By the way, the kids I worked with using more of a play based approach when they were 8,9,10,11 when I was in Miami are very well athletically now. They focused on a sport later of their own choosing after experiencing different sports and getting play based, exploratory, movement experience. I was involved also in intense sports “training” programs. Many of these kids don’t even play their “chosen” sport anymore. In fact, worldwide, kids that are trained intensely and purposefully for a specific sport, by and large do not continue. A few do, and we call them “elite”. But should our main focus for MOST children be to train them to figure out if they are elite or not? Or to give them experiences that create a lifetime relationship with Active Play?

    I also take a bit of an exception to this recent trend of calling people “so-called” experts, in disdain. Not sure if I am one of the people you are referring to or not, but just don’t like this practice. I would never refer to a parent or teacher as a “so-called” parent, or “so-called” teacher.

    To clarify, I do warn about making Active Play too intense too early, or too competitive too early. But certainly playing with a ball and running around is important as early as is possible (the child will let you know). There are ways to both foster a child’s movement development so that they end up athletically skilled, and to not introduce intense competition and training too soon. Come talk to me.

    • trackmom says:

      Kwame, Thanks for weighing in.

      While I completely agree that children should have a balanced progressive approach to physical development this doesn’t always happen as you have noted in your comments.

      My take on the post I wrote and quoted is approaching the perspective of the athlete that may already be head first into a sport or many sports (and the parents) just might not be getting the athlete training that will help him in the future,for the sports he is involved in.Thus allowing potential injury and problems down the road.

      Whether we like it or not for many reasons children are begininig formal active sports for competition sake earlier that we would like.Not all parents intend this but end up with this because they fall into an initial senario based on sports for fun then all of a sudden it is for active competitive sport. Many parents I speak to didn’t really know about the current approach to youth sports and are confused, wanting a good expereince for thier children not a scholarship,while I have met a few that absolutely are hoping with early beginings of “training their child will earn a scholarship.( This is another topic in and of itself).

      I personally had no idea and the first time I went to a “formal youth meet” I was not prepared for what awaited me. I heard someone say “This is like the Olympics of Youth Track here in So Cal” I was overwhelmed with the 2500 athletes there and almost left except Lauren wanted to run.

      I am not promoting intense competitve training early but,if the child is on that path perhaps it is better to introduce the aforemented strategies yours and mine to help the youth athlete’s parents understand and possible gain a balance for the child that is balanced and hopefully fun also. The best training I have seen for our youth track athletes ages 5-7 or 8 is where they play tag, have sack races hop on one foot and have relay races. It’s fun and provides a great introduction into active movement and creates memories that the child will cherise and want more of next year.

      I was at a meet this weekend with over 1200 athletes and 2,000 spectators. There was only one winner in each race but the remaining athletes were winning at being active and I think having fun too. Parents really do want what is best for thier kids.Sometimes parents need exposure to concepts that might not be presented to them by the coaches or P.E. teachers at school. If they even have a P.E. class.

      Thanks again for your comments and visiting TM

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