Should Young Athletes Condition?

Posted by & filed under .

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Conditioning is one of the most difficult topics to understand.

A lot of people do not actually know what conditioning is or how to implement it. There is also a bit of uncertainty between conditioning and punishment.

Sometimes the lines get really blurry.

Usually when a team doesn’t play or practice well, the coach will run them into the ground. This is not conditioning and should be acknowledged as such.

Conditioning is supposed to train an energy system. The human body has three. If the conditioning is not designed to improve a specific energy system then it does not really serve a purpose.

Conditioning becomes even more confusing when we start talking about the age of the athlete.

Ages 8-11

A lot of parents and athletes are concerned with their kid’s endurance during this age. Kids that struggle with their conditioning at this time are in luck.

Conditioning for this age group does not really matter.

The best thing we can do is to use short bouts of activity and a lot of reps. Trying to have youth athletes run like they are in high school is not going to be beneficial for them. They simply have not developed enough to take advantage of it.

We can almost trick these kids into conditioning. Playing games or doing fun activities that have short breaks built into them can be a way to help them develop, appropriately.

These kids need to play and stay active, not condition.

Ages 12-14

There can be a lot of differences between athletes in this age group. Some athletes go through puberty earlier than others and they mature at different rates.

A couple of training aspects stay true with most athletes in this grouping.

Middle school athletes are not going to be capable of really high force outputs which means they probably do not need a long time to recover from them. Shorter breaks and more reps might be better than long rest periods when the expected output is not as high as normal.

There is going to be a pretty big break down after about 30 seconds of a drill. Having athletes run 300 yd shuttles are going to give poor performances and it won’t be because the athlete is out of shape. They just are not ready for that kind of a drill.

It is easy to fall into expectation traps with this group. An athlete may run a short shuttle really well so we want them to do longer shuttles. Instead, they will benefit from more shorter shuttles until they get older.

Ages 15-18

This front end of this age group will also be divided. Some athletes will not have reached maturity yet and need simpler training.

With older athletes it becomes more important to assess and train all of the energy systems. We can see the following examples of athletes:

  • Really fast but cannot sustain it
  • Can run all day but isn’t ever all that fast
  • Not fast and lacks endurance
  • Breaks down at the end of games

All of these qualities can be tied back to conditioning. Some athletes need to work on their speed and do less conditioning. Faster athletes also need to be able to repeat those efforts or else they do not do a lot of good.

Unlike the younger populations, these athletes almost do not have any restrictions to the types of drills, times, and recovery periods of training.

It will, however, greatly depend on the athlete. Each one will be different and take to certain conditioning methods better than others.

Take that individualized approach and remember who we are talking about here. There is no need for concern when a young athlete struggles with endurance. They probably just need to get a bit older.