If you told me a little over a year ago now that by 2021 I would be coaching a group of youth athletes playing soccer at a very high level I would have just assumed that you had taken too much pre-workout!! See coaching youth athletes was never something that was a major interest for me.
It turns out my young guys have been some of the most rewarding athletes and human beings I work with. It’s been inspiring watching them develop and grow and their energy and attitude to training is nothing short of phenomenal.
However, back then I thought most grown adults were difficult enough at the best of times but add a very short attention span to that and its gotta be impossible!
In 2019 when I was asked to take on a 13-year old soccer player I thought if nothing else I will be working with a clean slate, no existing major injuries, no time for him to have developed huge imbalances, poor movement patterns etc. Boy was I wrong!
Fast forward a year and I am currently working with a group of youth soccer players who have all come to me with goals of getting bigger, stronger and faster. But on assessment I began to notice a worrying trend with these young athletes all reporting struggles with recurrent groin and hamstring tears, hip mobility problems and even low back pain.
My brain was screaming the question…..
Why are guys so young, playing at an elite level getting all these issues we associate with “wear and tear” and “overuse” in older athletes?
Then I watched these guys move and everything became clear.
None of these guys could jump, land, squat, run, change direction or even hold a static wall drill posture without showing significant deficits in motor control, strength, coordination and awareness of their body! Couple that with the massively demanding training schedules these guys have which only serve as an opportunity to compound some of these imbalances and we have a disaster waiting to happen.
And before the “latest research based trainers” jump in, yes I understand the influence of peak height velocity, hormones, growth and maturation etc. on all of these issues but my next question was and still is……how is there no long term athlete development s&c in place at this elite level to combat this?? I mean these guys are potential future senior international footballers but if they keep going the way they’re going injury is very likely going to put a stop to that.
Developing youth athletes doesn’t need to cost a huge amount of money, 90% of what I do with my guys involves little to no equipment and the other 10% we do because we have the luxury of a private gym and access to equipment!
Below are 3 simple things all coaches and clubs can start doing today to improve youth development!
Instead of running laps or worse still not warming up at all, pick a small number of basic movements like hinging, squatting, reaching, etc and build your warm up around those. If like my guys, you’re training athletes 4-5 times a week that’s probably 4-5 times more exposure to these movements than you’re currently getting! Click here to see the full movement warm up all my guys use before every session, you don’t need to use all of this but pick 1 or 2 sections and integrate it into your warm up now!!
Yes I know that sounds obvious, boring and very technical but think about it…. where are most injuries occurring on the pitch?? When we stop and turn suddenly or when we land from a jump so why not teach guys how to efficiently control and use these movements in training the exact same way we train them to dribble a ball or take a free kick so they don’t break down on the pitch! I generally add wall drills, speed marches, skips, plyometrics and landing mechanics onto an “extended warm up” that takes no more than 5-10 minutes extra. As they progress add limitations into your training games to make athletes focus on these movement patterns in a real “game situation”
Lastly at the end of a session 1-3 times a week design a simple body weight circuit using 3-4 exercises with 8-10 reps for 3 rounds (alter these reps and rounds depending on how much time you have to spare!). The mistake we normally make here is using this type of thing as a “finisher” or conditioning doing as many reps as possible with ever decreasing technique!! Instead play around with things like slow eccentric or concentric tempos, isomeric holds, and different variations of exercises while all the time keeping technique and control the main focus.
Some great body weight variations I use with my guys include,
That’s 15 minutes in total we’ve added to the session and if you can’t sacrifice that you can simply do speed work one day and body weight work another day.
5-10 minutes of this type of work in training adds up massively over the course of a season and will go a very long way for these young athletes not only for their success in their sport but for their long term development as athletes!