Training Kids: Not so Much About Exercise Selection

I recently received an e-mail asking a question about session breakdown when you’re dealing with groups of kids.  I thought it might be of interest to post it here as well as the response I sent back.

Q: I work with a large variety of clients and some of them are groups of young athletes 11-14.  I saw your blog post and I fully agree, however I have a question.  I do not want to fall into the category of the guy who puts the kids through cone drills and agility ladder drills for an hour straight.  My typical breakdown of the hour tends to look like this:

5 mins Foam roll/dynamic flex/movement prep
5 mins agility ladder
5 mins “plyos” (usually 1 legged hurdle hops w/ focus on sticking landings both front, medial, and lateral… or even some box jumps)
10-15 mins sprints(with a focus on a set yardage for decel.) maybe some cone drills(pro agility, T-drills etc..)
20-25 mins strength work (usually 2 tri sets of Lower push, Upper Pull, Core AND 2 tri sets of Lower Pull, Upper Push, Core) 
5-10 mins of conditioning (ropes, swings, sled work etc..)
If you had an hour with a group of young athletes, what would your ideal layout look like?  And what would you focus on the most in each category?

A: Your session’s breakdown looks pretty darn good to me!  The first things to consider is your own situation: type of clientele, their age, their training experience, what’s your coach-to-athlete ratio, the space you have available, the equipment you have, the time you have with your groups, etc.  Each of these factors would influence the way I plan a session with a group.

That said, if you already have them do foam rolling, dynamic flexibility and some type of strength work, you have your bases covered because this is what’s gonna matter in the long run.  One thing you want to focus on is exercise form; I don’t think it matters that much which exercises you select, it’s the way you teach them and how they move.  This is the foundation for everything.  Whether you do lunges, push ups, rows, squats or whatever else you want them to learn to move the right way: break at the hips, keep their back flat, pack their shoulder blades back, keep their neck in alignment with the rest of the spine and things like that is what they really need to learn to do at such a young age.

I don’t know how big your groups are and I know that’s it’s not always easy to have everyone in your group move perfectly, especially when you have a large group to deal with (trust me, I’ve been in this position before and it’s not an easy one), but exercise form is what you should definitely focus on.The same thing goes for speed/plyo stuff; you want to focus on their form.  You mentioned something about focusing on sticking their landing; I think that’s great and it’s exactly what you should do, make sure they jump and land the right way before progressing to more complex variations.  Same thing for the speed stuff, if you have the knowledge, I would try to coach sprint form as much as possible.

As for the agility ladders, to be honest, I’m not a huge fan, but if you do it for only 5 minutes it’s not a big deal, and if your kids are not very well coordinated this can be a great tool to incorporate in your workouts.  Otherwise I’d personally opt to spend more time on the more important stuff.  Again that all comes back to the amount of time you have available with your kids.And for conditioning, as long as you’re not doing steady state or aerobic based stuff, and that you keep things interesting for them (hey, kids still need to have fun!) you’re all set.

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