The landscape of youth athletics is changing. Regardless of WHY parents want their kids to succeed (long shot college scholarship, living vicariously, or just wanting them to do their best), parents are always looking for ways to help their kids become better athletes. I know you hear horror stories all the time about psycho parents who burn their kids out, but in my limited experience, it has been the exception, not the rule. The parents who generally look for new ways to help their kids improve, are usually well grounded parents who have kids in love with a sport and want to help them be their best. Is it wrong to help your child improve as long as you keep things in perspective? A number of parents have decided it’s not and are discovering a new way to help their kids improve and succeed.

One recent trend in this area has been sending kids through strength and conditioning fitness programs. A recent NY Times article summarizes the trend:

BRACE yourselves, parents. Besides shuttling the kids to cello lessons, algebra tutoring, soccer matches and basketball practice, there’s one more activity emerging to give prepubescent go-getters a leg up these days: sports performance training.

Because many team coaches don’t have the time or the expertise in exercise science to make their troops faster and stronger, specialty programs – part gym, part pro-training camp – have stepped in to fill the need. For roughly $35 a session, they provide rigorous conditioning for any aspiring child, regardless of ability, using the kinds of practices that have set apart athletes like Tiger Woods and the Williams sisters.

Sports performance training is becoming de rigueur for ambitious stars in the making or unfit youngsters whose parents want to shore up their confidence.

The idea behind this is to let a professional trainer help kids develop better fitness, agility, strength, and conditioning while their sport coach concentrates on the art of whatever sport they are coaching.

It may sound extreme, but I found the article timely as my assistant coach and I had recently decided to send our U11 Girls travel team through some strength/agility training. The idea behind this was to provide the girls with strength and agility training during the preseason while we worked on technique and to a lesser extent, tactics. Hopefully this will not only improve their overall conditioning, it might help strengthen their confidence and maybe help them be more aggressive on the field in ways we alone as coaches could not accomplish.

We have a local Crossfit affiliate here in Mebane, which we’re partnering with to get our team this training. For 30 minutes of practice twice a week, a professional trainer will work with them on a variety of things:

  1. Cardiovascular endurance – The ability of body systems to gather, process and deliver oxygen.
  2. Stamina – The ability of body systems to process, deliver, store and utilize energy.
  3. Strength – The ability of a muscular unit, or combination of to apply force.
  4. Flexibility – The ability to maximize the range of motion at a given joint.
  5. Power – The ability of a muscular unit, or combination of, to apply maximum force in minimum time.
  6. Speed – The ability to minimize the time cycle of a repeated movement.
  7. Coordination – The ability to combine several distinct movement patterns into a singular distinct movement.
  8. Agility – The ability to minimize transition time from one movement pattern to another.
  9. Balance – The ability to control the placement of the bodies center of gravity in relation to its support base.
  10. Accuracy – The ability to control movement in a given direction or at a given intensity

The cost is relatively little, especially if multiple teams participate in the sessions, and we plan to make it optional. While the NY Times article mentions $35/session, costs for these programs vary widely. For us, the entire 5 weeks of twice a week sessions will be less than $50/player. By utilizing the first 30 minutes of their normal practice time, we’re not overloading their schedule. We’ve had a few players in our league participate in the Crossfit program individually and the players and parents are convinced the sessions helped them with overall fitness, agility, and conditioning. Will it help our team? Only time will tell, so I’ll be sure to post up my observations and thoughts in September.

On the surface this can seem let yet another thing parents will load into their overloaded children’s lives, and in some unfortunate cases, that may be true. But handled properly, I think the idea of having kids go through generic strength/conditioning sessions is a good thing that will help them in any sport they choose to participate in. Helping kids achieve better fitness is a good thing. I know in my view, replacing 30 minutes of our 90 minute practice will be time well spent if they come out of it stronger, faster, and more confident, even if it means a few less ball touches.

What do you think? Have kids in your leagues done this? How did it work out?