RPP Philosophy on Training and Developing Young Elite Athletes

By Nunzio Signore (BA, CPT, NASM, PES, FMS)

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I often get asked about our philosophy on training young athletes.  Needless to say, with the drastic fluctuations in structural, hormonal, and neurological development from one athlete to the next, teaching young athletes how to perform exercises with proper technique is a challenge, even for the most experienced coaches.

Here at RPP our programs are designed to produce elite athletes, the right way.  We take into consideration both psychologically and physically “sensitive periods” when designing programs for our developing athletes. Unless a young athlete’s developmental stage is taken into consideration we are basically trying to bang a square peg into a round hole (for the scope of this article we will be referring to athletes over the age of 12 years of age).

A different but related matter also comes into play, as I often get asked “Should my child specialize in one sport?” and if so, “At what age?” To put it bluntly, creating a high level athlete by specializing at a young age will create an athlete that peaks early and also burns out just as fast. It can also lead to overuse injuries. We call it “giving up long term goals for short term gains”. Different sports rely on using different movement patterns.  So for a young athlete playing multiple sports is not only a good thing, it’s actually necessary to develop elite level athletic qualities.  So with that said, I believe that specializing in one sport too early can be a devastating mistake.

Here we go…

RPP Athletic Development Philosophy

During adolescence, young athletes develop movement patterns that will be used for the rest of their lives.  My philosophy of developing young athletes (13-17+ years old) has a long term view.  I believe that coaching them should include:

    1. Being familiar with “Long Term Athletic Development”,
    2. Coaching fundamental movement patterns (squat, hinge, jumping, hopping, sprinting, push, pull, single-leg, core stability), and
    3. Energy system development (conditioning).

Long Term Athletic Development is a model used for understanding at what ages certain physical qualities have the highest potential for improvement. Knowing where an athlete is developmentally is crucial to help set them up for athletic success later.

Coaching Fundamental Movement Patterns: More than likely, athletes between 13-14 years old have a young “training age” (training background) and may not move as optimally as we would prefer. After a thorough assessment (please click here for more info), we create a program to help them fix imbalances enabling them to move better when learning proper lifting technique and reducing the risk of injury.

Energy System Development (conditioning): To build endurance (specific to work/rest ratios of the sport), we use many different methods including but not limited to sprint work, change of direction drills, bike sprints and slideboards to name a few.  Here’s the development model we use at RPP by age group. This is our model. Training approaches and models can vary depending who you talk to. This is just what we recommend and have found to work well for us.

13-15 Years Old

    • Participate in 2 different sports with separate off-seasons
    • Emphasis should be on beginning to develop overall athleticism and sport-specific skills
    • Begin a monitored athletic development training program (1-2x per week in-season, 2-4x per week off-season), with an emphasis on learning correct movement patterns, improving mobility and core strength as well as proper lifting technique.

(Learning to Hang Clean)

 16-17+ Years Old

    • Specialization in one sport is okay at this point
    • Emphasis on maximizing sport-specific skill
    • Participate in a monitored athletic training program (2x per week in-season, 4x per week off-season) with increased emphasis on maximizing strength, power and conditioning.

(Trap Bar Deadlift)

I think the great strength coach Mike Boyle said it best, “it’s important that we don’t apply adult values to youth sports programs.” Well said Mike.

See ya‘ in the gym.