Youth Athletic Development
Developing Young Athletes Safely & Effectively
One of my greatest passions, responsibilities, and joys is working with youth athletes and kids. Unfortunately, youth athletes are getting injured at alarming rates - with over 3.5 million under the age of 14 receiving medical treatment each year and an estimated 2.5 million high-school athletes getting injured each year.
The source of these injuries is multi-factorial, including:
- Over-use: Responsible for nearly 1/2 of all sports injuries to middle and high school athletes.
- Decreased variability in movement: Early single-sport specialization results in constant wear & tear over thousands of repetitions - a recipe for injury.
- Lack of an effective warm-up at practice: Nearly 60% of organized sports-related injuries occur during practice with over 1/3 of parents stating they don't have their child take the same safety pre-cautions at practice as they would before a game.
- Lack of or inappropriate strength and conditioning program: A safe and effective strength & conditioning program reduces injury by over 2/3's while increasing sports performance.
I implemented a long-term athletic development (LTAD) model to address these factors while improving strength & conditioning, boosting athletic performance, and reducing the risk of injury. All the while, kids are building and learning great habits during crucial developmental periods, habits that stay with them fr life. You can learn more about the original model that mine is based on by clicking here.
Our youth injury prevention & athletic development program addresses each of these factors individually and collectively, by:
- Regulating usage & recovery: We track all activity in order to limit excessive overall & week to week increases in activity while balancing optimal recovery time
- Variability in multiple planes: We challenge the body to move in different directions at different speeds, angles & encourage multi-activity participation
- Implementing a warm-up: We have a targeted and specific warm-up for each athlete in order to prime the body for safe, effective, and high performance movement
- A methodical and multi-tiered program: Our strength, mobility, and conditioning program is specific to each youth athlete and his/her unique developmental factors
The essence of a highly skilled injury prevention & athletic development program is finding the intersection of performance and prevention. This requires a knowledge of sport, systematic strength, mobility, & conditioning, developmental stages, and applied medical knowledge - a combination that I have with my unique playing, writing, and coaching background in multiple sports, knowledge of systematic and incremental processes with my background in strategy and process development, and detailed understanding of strength, mobility, & conditioning, youth development, and medical insight with my doctorate in physical therapy.
My goal is not to replace coaches or sport-specific coaching - that is beyond my scope and frankly irreplaceable - but rather, to complement that coaching in creating high performing, less injury-prone youth athletes who are learning great habits that are applicable both to their respective sport(s) and other facets of their lives.
Accomplishing that goal starts with 5 principles that are foundational to 3CB's youth athletic development program, we refer to them as the 5H's.
The 5 H's
Healthy: Our top priority is injury prevention and creating a foundation of strength, mobility, conditioning, self-awareness, and resiliency that each athlete can build on. You can't get better if you aren't on the field.
Happy: This isn't boot-camp. We never lose sight of the fact that these are still kids and we engage them as such - combining serious training with having some fun.
High-Performance: We use research-based systematic & incremental training to improve physical & mental performance, both on and off the field.
Habits: The heart of our development program is to see kids do well in any field of their choosing, including athletics. This requires instilling great habits during these crucial pre-adolescent and adolescent developmental stages. The best athletes are those with the best habits.
Holistic: We view each kid as a whole. Our program takes multiple factors into account including developmental factors such as developmental age (which can differ significantly from chronological age), relative age (age compared to the rest of the class or team), skeletal maturity, gender, general training age, and sport-specific training age; contextual factors such as summer vacation, tournaments, travel time, finals week, prom, etc; physical factors that focus on the inter-dependence of multiple body areas and systems rather than only on one joint or area and miss the forest for the trees. Accounting for each of these factors allows us to optimize training by implementing it at the optimal times.
The 4 step Programming Process
Our strength, mobility, and conditioning program is built on a 4-step cyclical process:
Step 1 - Assessment: We establish a baseline for each youth athlete by evaluating his or her movement patterns, strength, mobility, and conditioning - within their specific and unique developmental stage. Based on the assessment, we create a concrete training plan that incorporates the athlete's specific goals and unique factors.
Step 2 - Training: With the preparation & due-diligence now complete, we hit the gym to systematically improve mobility, strength, and conditioning.:
Step 3 - Workload Monitoring: During training and in or off-season, we monitor each athlete's workload and activity level to make sure they aren't under-prepared or over-fatigued. I use a research backed ratio called "acute to chronic workload" which has been shown to decrease soft tissue injury by 7000%.
Step 4 - Re-Assessment: After a set amount of time, we take stock of what's working, what's not, and what we can change or do better. Every athlete responds differently so we adapt the program as needed to maximize its effectiveness.
Here's a visual overview of the entire process for my soccer-specific youth program (partnered with Bexon Soccer Academy):