I have been training athletes now for just over 6 year, if you include the time I spent doing summer speed and agility camps while I was still getting my degree in Human Performance from Weber State. I have observed quite a few athletes over that time span, if you can imagine. The most consistent fact across the board that I have observed is that the younger the athlete begins to learn how to move effeciently.....the better!
Many athletes that I work with at Apex have never had the chance to recieve speed and agility training until they step foot into my facility. The average age of an Apex athlete is right around 15 years old, which has given most of them 15 years to develop BAD habits in running technique, how they cut and plant, how they jump....basically how they move. As a performance enhancement coach, my number one priority is to fix them mechanically and in order to do that they first must be willing to stop the bad habits they have developed over the course of those 15 years. I'm sure you can imagine that a habit developed through ones life, such as they way they pump their arms when they sprint, can be very difficult to change after such a long time! From my experience athletes such as these are very willing to learn and can be taught fairly easy, but those habits take a long time to correct and change due to the repetition that is needed to make it a habit.
A much differenct scenario is when a younger athlete around the age of 9 years old enters Apex with less time to develop and practice their bad habits. Younger athletes especially those just outside of their pre- teen years may not have quite as long attention spans or may not even be as eager to learn how to run more "effeciently", but the techniques become them much faster. (If that makes sense). The younger athletes are the ones that can learn the proper habits after just a 6 week block and tend to hold onto all the techniques and carry them into their future of sport and athletics.
There are numerous benefits to starting an athlete young in regards to speed/agility/strength. The first and most obvious is that they will move differently then the majority of their peers. After just a few training sessions most young athletes develop skills that will already begin to set them a part from their teammates or competitors by their arm drive or just the way they change direction. Over time athletes that have learned the proper mechanics of sprinting, cutting and jumping carry that into their future and begin to see improvements almost exponentially as their bodies mature and gain more strength and lean body tissue, because they already know how to move!!
Apex Outline for training young athlete's:
1. Help them understand the importance of technique!
2. Coordination, rhythym, reaction, balance. (Foot speed drills, ladders, jumping rope, patting your head and rubbing your belly at the same time....etc.)
3. Make them strong! (No not by lifting weights, but learning how to lunge properly, squat, push up, jump etc.....once an athlete has good body weight strength they will begin to move faster, period.)
4. Make them explosive (Engage in more explosive and plyometric based training once a sound body weight strength is established)
5. Establish pacing/form sprints by small bouts on the treadmill. (most athletes that are young don't know what it is like to run full speed yet, they usually even if they are fast only run fast enough to beat their teammate or score that touchdown)
When thinking about getting young athletes into training there is one thing that parents need to be sure of, and that is.....does the athlete want to do the training? Do they enjoy it? While I love working with young individual athletes and teams, at 8-9 years old attention spans can be short and the athletes may not want to be the next Lebron James as bad as Daddy wants him to be. Another thing that sticks out quite obviously is that younger athletes tend to operate better and at higher levels when their peers are around them, so if you are considering getting an athlete signed up, ask around if there is a friend or two that would want to join them or consider signing up a team.
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