Conditioning in early adolescent sports people

Stretching 1

In the last article we focused on pre-adolescent sports people. Here we will focus on the early adolescent/early puberty phase where young people are experiencing considerable physiological changes which will therefore have implications for training. I still believe that in this phase it is vital for children to be playing as many sports as possible and not to specialise into one sport. In the pre-puberty phase the focus of training is on “fun” and “play”, in this phase training should focus more on learning to train and techniques rather than intense heavy training.

There are significant changes which occur in bone, muscle and fat tissue at this stage this will have an effect on the child’s kinaesthetic awareness – their ability to know where their body is in space. Therefore coaches need to ensure that appropriate adaptations are made for movements which require constant changes in movement. These changes in bone and muscle growth also grow at different rates in different parts of the body. Arm and leg length increase before trunk length. Young athletes may appear gangly and tend to lose control of their extremities. They also tend to be very un-coordinated in this stage. These changes will affect components of fitness such as sprinting and jumping. It is important here to ensure young athletes are aware of the effect of their changing body shape. Also certain skills which may have already been refined may need to be re-learned.

Increases in bone length occurs before muscle length increases, therefore decreases in flexibility are very evident in this phase causing restricted movements. This also makes young athletes prone to injury from acute impacts; either from forced elongation of muscles during kicking and jumping or overuse injuries. It is very important to therefore emphasise lots of stretching exercises as well as to vary land-based and water-based activities to avoid overuse.

Introduction of aerobic training will be greatly beneficial at this stage as there is a significant increase in the production of red blood cells which will mean that the oxygen transport system is greatly improved. Therefore it is wise to make the most of these changes as they are happening. Short duration anaerobic training is still recommended as this energy system is still not fully developed, therefore keeping high intensity training short.

It is in this phase that the central nervous system is almost fully developed and therefore using this phase to improve and maximise skill development is vital. This also signifies that agility, balance and co-ordination are fully trainable now.

Lastly, from a physiological point, young adolescents grow at very different rates and there may be some athletes who develop quicker than others. Athletes may therefore be very different sizes at the same age and therefore age-related groupings may not always be appropriate. Coaches should try to rather group athletes according to physical and skill level. Be aware that late developers may have greater potential to perform later on and should not be neglected due to size and strength at this age.

Emotional development occurs at a rapid rate in this phase and will very often affect training as well. Hormonal activity increases and athletes may begin to experience mood swings and behaviour changes. Ensure that communication channels remain open and young athletes receive assistance to learn how to cope with their physical and emotional changes. It is here, also, where abstract thinking becomes firmly established therefore adolescents should be part of decision making processes and be made more responsible for their decisions.

In this vital stage of a young athlete’s development, it is important to note all the physical and emotional changes that they are experiencing so as to ensure optimal training and injury prevention. It is after this phase where athletes will begin to move into a more focused training phase during late puberty where perhaps specialisation in a certain sport becomes more of an option. Therefore it is important to ensure that a good base has been established for a well-rounded athlete.

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