Certified Athletic Trainer
MUSC Sports Medicine
Athletes of all ages can benefit from sports performance training, but at what age should a youth athlete start? Programs can be developed for all ages and levels and should be tailored to the physical and emotional level of each athlete. The benefits of sports performance training include increased athletic skill, proprioception development, and injury prevention. However, program development needs to take in to consideration a youth athlete’s developing body.
As each youth develops at a different rate there is no way to put a definite number on an appropriate age to begin strength and performance training. Studies have shown that at around age 7 or 8, balance and postural controls skills mature to adult level. Growth- related factors such as open growth plates and periods of adolescent growth as well as intrinsic factors like height, joint laxity, inflexibility, and muscle imbalances need to be taken into consideration when deciding if a youth is ready to start a performance program. Youths who have multiple risk factors should not be pushed into a strengthening program before the risk factors are addressed. Precautions such as limiting the amount of weight lifted and decreasing repetitions should be taken. Focus should be on proper technique and safety. Also, including a variety of drills and exercises decreases the chance of an overuse injury and keeps youth athletes more attentive during the session. A large part of a performance program should be focused on proper mechanics. Correct mechanics make athletes more efficient and efficiency increases an athlete’s skill level and decreases injuries. Multiple footwork drills should be included into a program, as well as, incorporating sports specific drills.
Athletes of all ages should also be given an adequate amount of time off in between seasons and off-season training program. This not only gives any injuries time to heal, it also allows for mental rest. Time off helps prevent burnout and helps to decrease injuries throughout the season. The amount of time off depends on the length of the season but should be at least one to two weeks. During this time off, athletes should address any injuries that occurred during the season.