Although different combinations of sets and repetitions have proven to be effective in younger populations (12), the youth must first demonstrate performance of each exercise with correct technique using a light load and then gradually progress the training intensity and/or volume without compromising exercise technique. In our youth programs, we start with relatively simple movements and progress the program based on technical skill and confidence to perform the desired movement. For example, we recently reported significant gains in selected measures of strength and power in 7-year-old children who performed five strength-building primary exercises and four skill-enhancing secondary exercises during the first 15 minutes of a physical education class (11). Participants in this study received specific feedback of the quality of each movement and were taught the value of initiating exercises from the athletic stance (e.g., eyes level, chest over knees, back slightly arched, knees bent, and feet wider than shoulders). Also, we used the phrase “look like an athlete” to reinforce proper body mechanics and correct errors in movement skill technique.
Fitness professionals who understand the uniqueness of physical and psychosocial characteristics of the youth have the potential to improve the preparedness of aspiring young athletes for sports. Although there are many approaches to enhance the physical fitness of the youth and reduce the likelihood of sport-related injuries in young athletes, regular participation in a variety of strength-building and skill-enhancing activities should form the foundation for future sport participation. Continuing education in the fields of motor development, motor learning, and pediatric exercise science, along with opportunities for fitness professionals to gain practical experience working with children and adolescents, is integral to the development and promotion of developmentally appropriate training programs that encourage lifelong physical activity.
Concomitant with the increase in organized youth sports is a surge in sport-related injuries in boys and girls who are ill prepared for the demands of sport practice and competition. Qualified fitness professionals are in a desirable position to implement programs designed to enhance the muscle strength and motor skill performance of children and adolescents that will reduce their risk of sport-related injury. Age-appropriate training programs can help boys and girls gain the strength, skills, and confidence needed for successful sport participation.
The authors thank Jim McFarland from Hillsborough High School in New Jersey for his contributions to this article.
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