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Starting Training 11-year-old

Answered By Not an expert

Question

Please advise as to appropriate level of running workout for my almost 11-year-old son. He has been playing rec soccer since kindergarten. No real training in that from any team he has been on. Maybe a 1/4-mile run twice a week. We just got him on a competetive team. He has just started mile runs about 4 weeks ago. On his own he does about 13 minutes. He is clearly slower than most of the team. BUT...... yesterday at practice after 1.5 hours of practice.. the team runs a mile together and the parents are talking about the need for 7-8 minute miles. I said, well my son will puke. And indeed he did. I got him some fluid. He got up and joined them for sprinting for another 20 minutes or so. I was surprised he could even function. I'm fine with pushing him. I'd like to think he won't die in the process. I have read some of your other posts and see that the fun factor is present here. Can you speak to what degree we are talking here? Fun versus hard work at what ages and the premise? Younger kids just cant buckle down this early? My son has not gotten up yet so I don't know if he can even walk this morning. Something doesn't seem right though. It seems like each kid needs to be addressed according to their skill level. Well, that's just a no brainer to me. Stating the obvious.

Answer

Good questions . . . and many facets of answers. Specifically, Gatorade (gssiweb.org) has researched this topic extensively, and I am sure many others have too. The consensus internationally (developed nations, team & individual sports, usual opportunity and coaching) is that youth athletes should be exposed to multiple sports until age 15-16 . . .the junior year of HS in the USA. At that time, a decision should be made. On one hand, an athlete with special abilities or skills may want to focus and drop certain distractions in order to enhance the chances of advancement (scholarships) at the next (collegiate) level. Most others should continue to enjoy sports in a rounded and varied way, doing the best they can but savoring each experience. This seems to be the international standard. As to relative workload, just as in training, there is never a "one size fits all", just as there is never one "correct" method of training that works. Several coaches around this country do well year-in and year-out with radically different philosophies, and often when I speak somewhere I am back-to-back with someone who has dramatically different views on HS training from myself. No problem . . . it is the same for youth athletics. There will always be a continuum for how much intensity and volume a youth athlete can (or should) take. I tend to err on the conservative side, but I have experience here that far outweighs the average HS coach. As the Chair of the Coaches' Committee for the National Federation, I see concerns about "overtraining" and "specialization" near daily (in all sports sanctioned by the NFHS). Also as a member of their Publication's Committee, responsible for producing the Coaches' Quarterly magazine, I review dozens of articles each year referring to coaches and parents wondering the same things you are . . . and many who wonder exactly how hard they (and coaches) should push. Time after time I see child prodigies who never mature to even the HS level due to what we call "burn-out", which is actually a lack of FUN. Kids will continue to practice and work at a sport indefinitely as long as it is fun, and they should be monitored by parents and coaches to see that it remains that way, because at the young ages I see discussed here, a child really doesn't possess the maturity to perform for intrinsic satisfaction. They perform to impress parents, coaches, and peers. But those motivators aren't enough for long-term success . . . the child must mature (still involved in the sport) until they can gain a good feeling of the effort=results process. If youth athletes desire to compete, I would certainly be supportive . . as long as they derived pleasure from the process. But . . . THEY need to be the ones who determine this, with a healthy dose of parenting that emphasizes the fact that if they want to excel, they have to work. Work is good. Hard work is even better . . . but watch the clues in every athlete (individual as they are) that might signal a desire to let up a bit and throttle back on the intensity. Physically, training load depends on the "individuality" you mentioned. I agree. Proper footgear, training on a "hard-easy" schedule, and variations on training themes to prevent boredom can make a youth athlete (the 10 or 11 year old discussed in several threads) oblivious to the fact they have put in a fairly high volume microcycle. That's great! But a lack of those three items (and perhaps other factors as well) can lead to premature loss of interest. I believe we are the custodians of these running (and throwing / jumping / vaulting / hurdling) careers. We aren't the end result. Parents and coaches have a responsibility to continue the athletic development in youth . . . looking long term. Performance at age 10 or 11 has never been a reliable indicator of who will take State in XC as a senior . . . or qualify for NCAA D.1 Nationals . . or come off the turn in the lead of the Olympic 5000. Our job is to give them that chance . . if they want it. Thanks for the question! Arb

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