Youth sports training, and specifically youth strength and conditioning, is one of the most misunderstood topics in the industry. There are many values that you, whether as a competitor, or more specifically if you are a coach dealing with a diverse population, can take from youth training and apply it to your daily WOD/coaching. Here I want to share 3 things I learned from coaching young athletes:
1. Movement, Movement and Movement! The most important thing when it comes to working with young athletes is movement. Not just getting off the couch, but being able to do human movement efficiently and effectively. Teaching the basics of strength training is rule #1. You need to be able to have a perfect lunge, step-up, strict pull-up etc. You also need to be able to move somewhat athletically. Learn how to skip correctly, high-knees, butt kicks and other simple footwork. Keep stuff simple, but demand perfection. Load can come later. A kid’s athletic future can be destroyed by loading improperly (just like an individual starting CrossFit), but you will only aid their development by teaching movement virtuosity.
2. What’s more important, playing or winning? As we delve into youth sport psychology, the age old question erupts on whether or not winning is everything. One can argue their points, but if a child is only obsessed with winning, other qualities of life will be forgotten. Values of teamwork and off-season hard work are best taught in early athletic development. As either a coach or a newbie to the CrossFit realm, you must not forget this lesson from youth sports. Coaching members to win the workout is not going to benefit them like coaching them to get the most out their workout through virtuosity of movement. It takes a bigger coach to scale someone down (or yourself down) than to cheer someone to power through without regard.
3. Communication and Listening! Personally, some of the movement cues that I learned through coaches that worked with kids greatly improved my coaching of adults. With kids, it is important to keep things simple; understanding what “scapular retraction” might be beyond them, anybody however will understand “pinch a coke can with your shoulder blades.” Similarly, as a coach, you need to listen to what your members are saying. There is valuable feedback that you gain by listening to the people you work with. From programming feedback to personality traits, all are important. For example, a shy individual might not like to demonstrate in front of a group, but might instead like to be praised as “looking like the best in the class” when no one else can hear; information you can only gain by listening closely.
Working with young athletes is incredibly rewarding. The fact that you can take place in the development of growing young men and women makes the philosophical profit even greater. However, just like we cannot forget what it is like to be young, we also must not forget that the young can teach us a lot about being old!