There are a lot of things to consider when it comes to helping a youth athlete perform at maximum ability. How they should be eating? What teams should they play for? What technique coach do they need to work with? Should they play select, premier, AAU, for a school team or all of the above? Should they specialize or just play one sport? How do I give them more agility? Speed? Explosiveness? Quickness?
Well, here are some unconventional answers to these questions.
1. Feed them carbs and make sure they get a good night's sleep!
This is pretty self-explanatory. Just do it. If you want more information about carbohydrate consumption and athletes, read this HERE.
Sleep is super important. Many youth athletes do not get nearly enough sleep. With all the homework and social media, some of the athletes that come into my gym are only getting 5-6 hours of sleep a night. They really need to be getting 8-9 to make sure they are performing at their best.
2. Pick the right team for them at the right time in their life.
When deciding which team your athlete will play for the short answer is ‘it depends.’ It depends on how old they are and if they are having fun. The older the athlete, the more elite of a team they can be a part of.
3. Work with a technique coach...Maybe
Sports technique and proficiency is the number one thing that is going to improve sports performance. For example, the best way to get better at soccer is to play more soccer, pretty obvious right?
Working with a specific technique coach can be a great thing for your athlete. They can get that push over the edge that they need to get a little better for next season, or work on what they are are really lacking when it comes to a specific skill. Again, this will depend on the age of the athlete and how long they have been playing the sport. Specific technique work is a form of specialization, so be aware that if your athlete isn’t at least 15 years old, hiring a specific technique coach may not be the best use of your time for long-term athletic development. You will likely be better off just enrolling them in different sports and a strength training program to make sure they can produce enough force and have enough variable movement patterns to perform well as they mature and gain athletic experience. This will improve most young athletes performance much more in the long run. Which brings me to my next point.
4. DO NOT specialize too early!
Early specialization of youth athletes is the number one way to insure that they never reach their full potential as an athlete and increase the likelihood that they will “burn out”.
Encourage them to play multiple sports!
They should play for a league that allows them to play other sports and does not rule their lives. One of the worst things you can do to a competitive athlete is force them to play just one sport at a young age. I know some basketball, soccer, and baseball leagues want to take 12 year old athletes and insist that the athletes only play for their league year round and that is so wrong. There is an overwhelming amount of research that shows that we need to be exposing athletes to variable movement as kids and pre-teens. The best thing we can do for them is have them involved in all kinds of activities. Even learning to play musical instruments and challenging the brain will have a positive effect on their ability to learn performance tasks. If you want more information on this point of view, look into the research and articles available pertaining to Long-Term Athlete Development (LTAD) and Dynamic Systems Theory.
5. Jump Training
Plyometrics (like box jumps, broad jumps, and many variations of throwing, basically anything where you are putting large rates of force into the ground or an object) have been shown to improve performance in sports and athlete development. These types of exercises help the body become better at landing, then learning how to put more force into the ground, thus making the athlete faster. The vertical jump and broad jump (height and distance respectively) have been strongly correlated to the ability to run faster and put more force into the ground. If you want your athlete to be faster then we need to improve their jumping ability. We can do this through plyometrics and jump training.
6. Weight Training
Athletes will get faster as their technique gets better. That is a definite fact and this is something we teach during our summer speed camps. Even though sports practice is a main factor (along with point 7), strength training can make a world of difference for the youth athlete. A majority of the time, young athletes don’t know how to put enough force into the ground to really run fast. Strength training will help them learn how to generate more force as well as help them learn how to control forces better thus making them a better overall athlete. Sometimes strength training is the answer for kids that just don’t yet know how to use their bodies.
7. Sprinting and Sprinting FAST!
A majority of the time team sport athletes do not get exposed often enough to high velocity sprinting. This is because they don’t have enough time (or space) to accelerate. Most athletes reach maximal velocity after traveling in a relatively straight path for 30m (32 yards). In most team sports, it is very rare that an athlete will cover a distance of that length in a relatively straight line during game play - maybe a long play in soccer or in some football plays but they are not doing it all the time. This means that they never really build their velocity capacity, they never have a chance to build on their maximum ability. Increasing an athlete's maximum velocity capability will make lower velocities, like what is seen in game play, easier to manage and less taxing on the body. So make your athletes run and make them run fast with long rest periods in between. This will be extremely effective in making them faster athletes. Seems kind of simple, right? To make your athletes faster sprinters just make them sprint faster.
So I realize these are not what you would typically think of “speed drills”. Most people think of agility ladders, cone drills, fancy footwork drills, running with sleds and parachutes. Don’t get me wrong, some of this equipment is helpful, but for the most part you have to focus on the big rocks before focusing on the sand. This list goes over the big rocks and what is the most important in developing speed in your athletes.
If you are looking to improve your athlete's speed this summer click here.