4 Tips for Training Youth Athletes

Youth Soccer Team

When I was a kid, I had a friend with an extraordinary skill.

He could fix the Nintendo.

We’d put a game in and push the power button. If a static-y blur popped up he’d take out the game cartridge, blow on it, and put it back in. If this didn’t work, he’d repeat the maneuver and add a brutal open hand slap to the side of the console. Eureka! Working Nintendo.

Despite his occasional success, it was obvious he didn’t know how to fix electronics. One sad autumn day in 6th grade, that earth-shaking slap broke the Nintendo for good.

The moral of the story is: If you don’t know what you’re doing, don’t just try things and hope for the best. This advice goes double for coaches of youth athletes.

By the way if you are interested in some youth sports teams or programs will have plenty of information on what you can get involved in locally today.

The horrible exercise selections, coaching cues, and programming problems I’ve witnessed play in my head like a highlight reel from a youth athletic training Twighlight Zone.

With a new season of youth sports coming up, I’ve put together a basic, no-frills guide to training youth athletes and if your already ready to double down and go for it sign up for my Youth fitness program or try my online athletics coaching here for those who have trouble getting to the gym with the hectic schedule a parent deals with.

Practice Basic Movements
If you’re too busy to read the whole article, this is the most important point:

Keep. It. Simple.

If you’re going to do strength and conditioning for your athletes – don’t get cute with exercise selection. Youth athletes are all beginners and should be trained as such. Stick to the fundamentals. Strive for perfection in the basic movements of squat, hinge, lunge, push, and pull. If this is the only thing you teach your kids to do, you have succeeded. Healthy movement will serve them well forever.

Don’t Be Afraid of Weights

Let’s say you have a kid who can do bodyweight squats all day and night. Clearly, resistance can be added to this movement to progress the exercise.

Usually, I see coaches add resistance by adding a band under the feet and held overhead. Great choice because bands are universally safer than weights right?


This particular exercise is a pet peeve of mine. First, an overhead squat is an advanced squat movement and a child is rarely ready for this progression. Second, the band will snap on their head and shoulders if they need to drop the weight. Third, the loading scheme is backward, with the highest resistance at standing where the legs don’t perform any work, and lowest at the bottom where you’re trying to build strength. Finally, shoulder stability is at the mercy of the band and that unnecessary instability eventually leads to injury.

The better (and safest) solution is to hand them a dumbbell and teach them to Goblet Squat. It puts the weight in a centered position that is easy to control. There is no unnecessary pressure on major joints. The weight is easy to dump if it becomes too heavy or uncontrollable. The athlete can use identical form to the bodyweight squat and maintain the integrity of the movement pattern they’ve already built. If you would like to see what goblet squat looks

Don’t get psyched out by the iron. In many cases, it’s the safest way to progress.

Don’t Chase Numbers

Now let’s say you have a young athlete who is coordinated and strong. I train kids, so I know it’s tempting to have the “beastly super-kid” that starts bench pressing and deadlifting heavy weight, but DON’T DO IT.

Remember, your youth athlete doesn’t have the hormones for significant muscle hypertrophy yet. The majority of their “gainz” are neural, not muscular. Until puberty, their strength is built by increasing the efficiency of the neural pathways that fire muscles. More of the required muscles fire, together and faster, while fewer unneeded muscles are used. They won’t add significant muscular size or strength until they get hit by the testosterone truck.

Be patient and progress slowly. Focus on what is best for the development of the athlete, not what looks cool on your Instagram.

Coach By Example Remember they’re Youth Athletes

Youth athletes learn how to act on the field from their coaches. If you’re a coach that is constantly yelling, throwing your clipboard, and/or general losing your composure – you’re a bad coach. You’re creating a legion of gremlins that will disrespect officials, put down other players, and shirk responsibility for their conduct. Suck it up and get ahold of yourself.

The best thing you can coach is a positive outlook on sports and training. Teach kids to listen to officials, identify and improve their weaknesses, respect their adversaries, and support their teammates. Show them how to set goals and lose gracefully.

Guide your athletes to act like Derek Jeter, not Manny Ramirez.

Do What is Best for the Kids

Stop smacking the Nintendo and hoping for the best. Focus on the basics to make sure the kids get the most out of their time on your team.

If you want to coach strength and conditioning for your team, but don’t know how – you don’t have to be the trainer! Refer them to a Youth Exercise Specialist like myself. Here is my page on youth fitness and what I can provide for you

I refer clients to chiropractors and physical therapists all the time because they are better equipped for some things than I am. It’s not a failure of my skills. It’s doing right by the client.

As long as you give your youth athletes a positive sports experience you’re doing a great job. Coaching kids is incredible fun. Get on the field and have a blast![optin-cat id=”866″]