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Coaching Young Athletes

     Every sports coach, at some time in their career, has encountered athletes who are totally immersed in a specific sport to the exclusion of other sports, and the pursuit of other activities such as school and a social life. The exact polar opposite is the talented athlete, who is so occupied with their social life, that fails to meet their responsibility to parents, sport, and school in completing assigned tasks.

     Intense participation in a sport or activity is not necessarily a bad thing. Some individuals prefer to be recreational athletes who do many sports well, but do not excel in a specific sport. Others find the challenge to be attempting to be  their very best at one specific sport.

Sports Specialization
     Sometimes the athlete must specialize because of the very nature of their sport. For example, figure skating, gymnastics, and diving are sports that require the acquisition of specific skills that require many years to acquire and even more to perfect to the elite class level. These tasks are so sport specific that they can not  be obtained through transfer from other sports.

NOTE: Presentation skills in ice skating can be developed through participation in ballet, ballroom dancing, acting, and/or playing a musical instrument.

Exclusive Participation
    Involvement in a single sport to the point of excluding all other sports and most other activities can occur at any age. It is generally not encouraged by trainers because of their concern that the athlete will "burn out".  It is impossible to maintain a high energy training program for 52 weeks a year. A training schedule needs to build towards and peak for each specific competition or meet.  Experts highly recommend  The Long Term Athlete Development (LTAD) model. 

    Young athletes are physically developing, from early childhood to late adolescence. This means that male and female athletes develop at different rates.  Normal growth stops when the growing ends of the bones fuse. This usually occurs between the ages of 13 and 15 for girls, and 14 and 17 for boys. The typical pattern of rate of growth for boys and girls from birth through adolescence is an important factor in the Long Term Athlete Development (LTAD) of a child.

    Sport scientists have reported that there are critical periods in the life of a young person in which the effects of training can be maximized. They have also concluded that it can take anything from eight to twelve years of training for a talented athlete to achieve elite status. This has led to the development of athletic models, which identify appropriate training aims at each stage of the athlete's physical development.

Factors in Designing Training Programs
    There are multiple factors every coach must understand when designing a training and competitive program to anticipate responses of individual athletes and teams to anticipate and unanticipated situations.

    In an ideal world coaches should not have to have training in physiology, but in the real world the following factors will impact the relationships of athletes, parents, and coaches in a training environment associated with the stresses of participating in competitive sports:
  • Age
  • Male or female
  • Natural physical abilities
    • Height
    • Weight
    • Body proportions
    • Body fat index
  • Personality Traits
    • Emotional maturity - shows little emotion to be over the top when reacting with and to others
    • Social maturity - below age socialization to very mature for age
    • Temperament - even to erratic
    • Disposition - positive to negative
    • Sensitivity to constructive criticism received as personal attack
    • Attention span - short or long
    • Desire - little desire to highly desirous of achieving goals
    • Self motivation - little to very motivation
    • Discipline - no self discipline to highly disciplined
    • Assertive or passive behavior
    • Subject to mood swings of minor and major duration and intensity
  • Family financial ability to afford participation
  • Family stability - functional or dysfunctional home environment
  • Family emotional support
  • Family aspirations for son or daughter in their athletic participation
  • Statement on Exercise: Benefits and Recommendations  In addition to the physical benefits of exercise, both short-term exercise and long-term aerobic exercise training are associated with improvements in both primary and secondary prevention of cardiovascular disease.

Age Specific Training Guidelines
    Most sports require, that an athlete's body mature for their performance to reach a level expected for high level, elite athletes. Among these sports are: basketball, football, hockey, soccer, etc. which involve a lot of physical contact, stamina, and fully developed skill sets. Other major factors necessary for amateur and professional success are optimum size and weight combined with stamina, agility, aggressiveness, and ability to play even went injured that would cause others to take themselves out of the game.
    Parental involvement can be supportive or it can become excessive when athletes are encouraged to devote long hours training combined with a pervasive environment of engaging in talking only about the sport that they are involved in. There is a concerted effort to diverting the athlete's interest in other sporting interests and social activities, which are viewed diversions from the athlete's goal of success. The type of behavior is referred to as "exclusivity" by certified sports trainers.
  • Age-Specific Training Guidelines Revealed : Minnesota Hockey HEP  In recent years sports scientists have spoken out emphatically about the harmful effects of premature and over intense athletic training of young children. Many complain that hockey programs for youngsters are too intense, competitions too many, seasons too long, emphasis on winning too great.
Young children are pushed by parents and coaches to choose and specialize in the sport way before they are mature enough to do so. Up to the age of eight, children should enjoy a variety of fun and stimulating activities; they need to develop a broad base of movement skills.

Intensive training and competition at too early an age inhibits the development of skills such as balance, agility, and coordination, and it prevents youngsters from learning other sports.
  • PDF  Youth Resistance Training  Injury Surveillance Studies revealed that participation in team ..... If current age- specific resistance training guidelines are followed school-aged youth should participate daily in 60 minutes or more of moderate to vigorous physical activity that is develop- mentally appropriate and enjoyable and involves a variety of activities.
  • The Frequency, Intensity, Type and Time (FITT) of exercise program consists of a set of rules that must be adhered to in order to benefit from any form of fitness training program.  These four principles of fitness training are applicable to individuals exercising at low to moderate training levels and may be used to establish guidelines for both cardiorespiratory and resistance training.
  • Weight Lifting by teenagers helps them build muscles, add stamina and gain strength so they are more competitive in all sports. It is important that teen weight training is done properly as teens are still growing. It is most important that teens have a plan and are taught safe technique and form to avoid injuries. It is very important that this be done under the supervision of a highly trained and certified instructor.
Recommended Reading:

Coaching Behavior Preference Thesis  PDF

High School Athletic Association Sponsors PDF

Aurora City Schools Ice Hockey Program PDF

Interscholastic Middle School Sports PDF

Ice Hockey High School Program PDF


  • Challenges in Coaching Young Athletes  Parents and coaches need to under-stand how to train young athletes to de-velop their skills without unrealistic ex-pectations that cause too much pressure to excel.
  • Education and Athletes  For the skater who is considering a career in coaching figure skating, earning a goal test medal is like achieving a high school diploma with honors. Passing two gold medals equates to the time, money, and energy spent in earning an Associate of Arts degree. Achieving three gold medals is like graduating with a college degree in three years.
  • Identifying, Understanding, and Training Youth Athletes   Many parents believe that with the right amount of training, coaching and perseverance, their child can be an Olympic champion. There is a certain mystique about talented athletes, whether they are amateur Olympians or professionals, because of their sports mastery and the skills they display. It is not an easy path to success, and few achieve this dream at the highest level.
  • Coaching Youth Athletes   Parents and coaches need to understand how to train young athletes to develop their skills without unrealistic expectations that cause too much pressure to excel.

The following internet links have been gleaned from personal communications
combined with information from public institutions and athletic organizations/
associations that have a web presence with information concerning team and
individual sports programs:

Opportunities in Coaching Coaching Certification
PDF  Coaching - Avocation or Career?   
PDF  Careers in Coaching
          The role of Education & Athletic Career
PDF  Responsibilities of Coaching
          Factors in Coaching Young Athletes
          Preparing to Coach                 
          PSA Code of Ethics
          Tenets of Professionalism
PDF  PSA Grievance Procedure Rules
PDF  Grievance Application Form
PDF  Synchronized Ethics Guidelines
PDF  Solicitation, Promotion & Tampering
          CER Programs
          Accreditation & Certification

All materials are copy protected. 

The limited use of the materials for education purposes is allowed providing
credit is given for the source of the materials.

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