Providing a platform for young athletes to develop physically and physiologically in a planned, safe manner over the long term.
Training young athletes and encouraging involvement in sports ensures that they are in better shape physically, physiologically, socially and academically and so that they can perform better in all aspects of life whilst providing a healthy body blueprint for life, both inside and outside a competitive sport environment.
Combining the words ‘strength training’ and ‘youth’ in a sentence has been met with scepticism and concern over the years and I admit that as a father myself, some of this concern is understandable; the last thing you want is anything unsafe or poorly understood being applied to your children. There have been plenty of horror stories about children being hurt at gyms, as well as the oft-told apocryphal tale of ‘stunting’ of a child’s growth that flutters through the grapevine amongst parents each day.
It would be remiss of me not to admit that these concerns may have some weight to them. Why? Not because strength training is bad for children but rather because the coach prescribing such training was not properly qualified. I have heard stories of and have even been witness to instances of coaches prescribing exercise regimes without any knowledge of, or regard to, a young athlete’s anatomy and physiology.
I have seen rowing coaches prescribe 200 jump squats a day to 13-year-old girl rowers; I have been told about gymnastics coaches prescribing 200 sit-ups, followed by 200 push-ups, to their 10-year-old athletes. Looking back, we were more than likely prescribed some of these crazy old-school methodologies when we were young athletes, from coaches that have no founding or proof of performance gain.
Regardless of such stories, it is evident that children are exposed to inordinate amounts of work without any considered thought on the short or long-term effects on the child.
However, the progression of scientific understanding of children’s anatomy and physiology has opened an avenue in which to train children and adolescents correctly, safely and with the capacity to nurture positive physical and physiological adaptations.
At Hammer, we have plenty of youth athletes in the business of achieving higher physical and physiological capacities. However, what we are finding of late is that we are seeing more and more children come to us after suffering major injuries.
While our experience is subjective, these high injury rates appear despite the recent gains in knowledge regarding youth training, including schools and clubs employing and investing in strength and conditioning coaches/programs to help with greater performances and lower injury rates.
At the surface, this is a great initiative by these organisations. However, the problem we are experiencing is that the programs are too generalised and they do not take into account accumulative training load (or ‘cross-talk’) between different sports, or even between the same sport for instance (playing for club and school, for example). On top of this, most children will play more than one sport and are involved in other extra-curricular activities, amidst the regular stressors of schoolwork. Such an accumulative load is putting even more pressure on children’s health and well-being.
Another issue aside from cross-talk is training children according to maturation age. Every child matures at different speeds, which means some children must have different programs according to their stage of pubescent development. Consequently, a ‘one-size fits all’ method does not work and an emphasis on when children progress through their second fastest growth stage (outside of their first year of life) has to be a priority. By way of example, a measure of when a child is undertaking a growth spurt is ‘Mean peak height velocity’, which can be accurately calculated to identify when different protocols/strategies should be enacted to a child’s training regimen based on this growth process.
Many coaches employed by schools and clubs will more than likely concern themselves with team performances and not the individual, long-term outlook of a young athlete. Promulgation of a winning culture within a team produces positive effects, including sport retention, elevated work rates, increased skill development and athlete confidence. However, winning with a ‘whatever it takes’ attitude can be limiting to a young athlete’s decision making ability and promotes attitudes that can impair lateral thinking and problem-solving skills when a situation requires such thought. In the long term, a lack of an individual approach may create long-term negative attitudes when a young athlete encounters difficult circumstances and may result in poor developmental habits.
In our view, the premise of training young athletes and encouraging involvement in sports is to ensure that they are in better shape physically, physiologically, socially and academically and so that they can perform better in all aspects of life whilst providing a healthy body blueprint for life, both inside and outside a competitive sport environment. Consequently, establishing a healthy connection between all stakeholders from coaches, parents and teachers to physiotherapists and strength and conditioning coaches and developing consistency in approach and collaboration, as opposed to maintaining diverse roles and responsibility, which will best serve a young athlete’s development.
The LTAD Program
At Hammer Athletic, we have decided to engage in part of this collective responsibility by providing a platform for young athletes to develop physically and physiologically in a planned, safe manner over the long term.
We offer an ongoing Long Term Athlete Development program initially involves a one-off screening with an experienced and qualified coach to determine:
- Movement efficiency;
- Maturation age;
- Mean Peak Height Velocity;
- Injury/illness history;
- Fitness; and
- Somatype (body type).
Hammer Athletic will then develop a training program based on the results of that screening. This program will include:
- a strength program, performed once a week in a group format (with other like-minded young athletes) under the tutelage of a Hammer coach;
- a basic strength program to be performed individually during open gym hours (with ready supervision of a Hammer Athletic coach); and
- a mobility/pre-hab program to be performed on their own.
We will also employ techniques for monitoring training loads, both on the central nervous and physiological system, which we consider essential to any training program. In order to do so, we will combine technology such as Push bands (velocity measuring equipment) and athlete feedback through Perceived Exertion scales. Further, athletes will also be required to complete homework and perform the necessary tests each week (which are both very simple and not time consuming) in order for Hammer coaches to properly monitor and decide effective and safe training levels. We believe that this approach effectively minimises the impact of ‘cross-talk’, which we have seen impact the effectiveness of training programs in young athletes.
- an upfront fee of $66 (which covers the initial 45 minute screening session); and
- an ongoing $33 per week membership.
The membership can be suspended or cancelled at any time, as at Hammer we do not believe in restrictive, long-term contracts. We appreciate how expensive things are as a parent but we believe that this provides an exceptional, cost effective platform that allows a young athlete to grow both physically and academically, within a controlled, positive and safe environment.
Every child develops at a different rate and their eligibility for the program would be determined by one of our qualified coaches during a screening. Typically it would suit children and adolescents from 12 – 20 years of age.
If you would like to get in touch with one of our coaches please visit our contact page.