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Taking Young Athletes To The Next Level

Learn the truth about training young athletes for success... including when young athletes should specialize in only one sport (the answer might surprise you!)

Learn the 'truth' about training young athletes for success - including when young athletes should specialize in only one sport (the answer might surprise you!)

Conditioning Athletes For The Long Haul

For many young athletes, it is assumed that in order to improve play in a particular sport, the athlete must play or practice that sport over and over again. After all, practice makes perfect -- right?

Well, yes and no. Some very interesting information is being brought to the forefront and will revolutionize the way we develop young athletes in North America.

Super Star Or Super Flop?

One of my local newspapers (Birmingham, Alabama area) recently wrote a story on "Mr. Football". This is an award for the best high school football player in the state for a given year. They had given the award for 25 years and were about to pick number 26. The topic of the story was not on who they thought would win this year, it was a story about the past 25 winners -- where are they now? Of the 25 best high school football players in the state, how many had pro football talent? Probably all of them? Of the 25 best high school players in the state, how many had played in the NFL?

One Of Them! That's Right Only One Out Of Twenty-Five!

Granted, the four most recent winners would still have been of college age, but 1 out of 21 is still very poor. There were some kids who were offered a handful of scholarship opportunities to very small schools. Kids you never heard of coming out of high school ended up being superstars later in their career -- some of whom did make it to the NFL. Why is that? -- Stay tuned!

Early Specialization -- The Key To Long Term Failure?

In a book titled Total Training For Young Champions, the author Tudor Bompa discusses two longitudinal studies done on large numbers of athletes in a variety of sports. For the athletes that specialized very early, there were some interesting conclusions. They were more likely to develop sport specific skill sooner, but the level of skill was not as high as those who waited until a later age to start specializing.

Also, the early specializers were prone to injury, burnout, and inconsistent performances. These problems were not as likely in the group that waited until later to specialize. Why is that? -- Stay tuned!

Patience Is A Virtue

In international competition, there are junior level competitors and senior level competitors. The senior level competitors are the ones you see in the Olympic Games and World Championships. The junior level world champions almost never become champions at the senior level. And few of the senior level champions were junior level champions (Bompa, 2000).

Statistics compiled by Brian Grasso of confirmed this in the sport of figure skating -- a sport which traditionally encourages early specialization.

In another interview with Bill Hartman of, we discovered the same is true for the game of golf. Tiger Woods is the exception, not the rule. Please understand, I am not saying that kids should not play sports. On the contrary, I think they should play a variety of sports. The key is to not limit them to a single sport too soon. In most sports, kids should wait until after puberty to specialize.

Multilateral Development Is The Key

Multilateral development is the development of all athletic movements and abilities. Those who develop a broad base of conditioning and athleticism long before specializing will be the most likely to succeed in the long run regardless of their sport of choice. We strongly believe in this philosophy, and will encourage it in our programs.

The main thing to keep in mind is for young athletes to perform a variety of activities. The athlete should be encouraged to do all of the following at some point in their sport/play: run, jump, hop, skip, throw, catch, climb, push, swim, balance, etc.

In part 2 of this series, I will discuss specific training practices and methods for optimal performance of the young athlete, and the strength and conditioning coach's role in the process.

About The Author

Chris Scarborough is a young athlete training specialist and the founder of He can be reached at

Be sure to also check out:
Strength Training For Adolescents!