I recently received a nice email from one of the coaches I taught on the 1st4sport Level 2 Certificate in Strength & Conditioning so I thought I would answer it as a blog post. His questions are all about programming for junior athletes.
What does the research say?
This research confirms for us a couple of principles of training for young athletes
The problem of some tennis parents (and coaches) is that they have never read any Sports Science recommendations. My personal opinion is if a junior tennis player has talent, then 15 hours a week tennis training + fitness and tournaments is more than enough for his/her development. If a tennis player does not have enough talent to play on the pro level, why destroy the young athlete’s health with 30 hours of training a week?
What about the multi-sport athlete?
I am all for playing several sports but there does reach a point when an athlete who truly wants to excel in one sport needs to start to specialise. The 12-16 year old age range I previously spoke about is where I feel the balance needs to start to shift towards one main sport- training as much as 85% in that sport. So I would need to ascertain from the coach what age group of athletes he is coaching; if the girls are 8-11 years old (pre-puberty for argument sake) then being a multi-sport athlete strikes me as a good thing.
Regarding the coach’s questions 2 and 3 it seems like the girls are not playing all three sports at the same time. The sport changes with the time of year. For the recreational athlete, or even a sport scholar, I think this is a good thing in principle- provided they are a bit younger. If they are older and truly want to excel at one sport though, I wouldn’t be chopping and changing sports throughout the year.
As the coach says, the main downside of being involved in several sports however, is the potential to be able to practice all year round! You never get to switch off and you could burn out!
Normally you would expect the athlete to go through a periodised plan which includes work, rest and play!!! In an ideal scenario you would work hard in your training phase, then go out and compete and then have a rest. Most professional sports calendars have an off-season where athletes can spend a few weeks re-charging their batteries before they hit their training again.