Conditioning is an essential element in the training aspect of youth sports, and it is never more important in the world of football, where proper conditioning can lessen and even prevent injuries sustained on the field. The other obvious benefit of a good conditioning program is the competitive edge it gives a football team over other, less fit teams, often turning the tide of an entire game.
This article provides some “best practice”, foundational advice for youth football conditioning.
The primary factor in a comprehensive conditioning program is the safety and wellbeing of the athletes. The goal of conditioning is to push the athlete as far as possible for as much physiological gain as possible, but this requires a thorough knowledge of each athlete and his individual needs in order to train efficiently while promoting safe, healthy fitness habits.
A pre-season physical for each athlete is essential to identify potential health risks, individual training requirements, and potential conditioning goals for each player. By making safety a priority in training, coaches not only value their athletes but also increase the reliability of the health of their players during the season.
Utilizing variety in football conditioning is essential in producing a well-rounded squad. Adequate pre-season conditioning should seek to target two areas of athletic training: strength training and aerobic/agility training.
Strength training yields the benefits of resistance to injury as well as more power on the line of scrimmage and in the tackle itself. Aerobic/agility training yields the benefits of endurance (on a play-by-play basis and over the course of the entire game), speed, and balance.
To address these two areas of training, coaches ought to build workout plans that incorporate a weight room in addition to the traditional, “field-only” training regimen. David Martinez, a strength and conditioning coach from Pasadena, California provides a great, basic workout regimen for young football players in an article he wrote for the National Strength and Conditioning Association (NSCA). He also provides a great overview of some of the benefits of youth conditioning. Another fantastic resource for a comprehensive conditioning program comes from Robert Pomazak, strength and conditioning coordinator at Elk Grove High School in Illinois. His five-phase program seeks to optimize off-season football conditioning for the best in-season results.
Motivate Your Athletes
Going beyond the training itself, coaches must focus on the effort their athletes put into the training program. The goal in mind is that the athlete “buys in” to the benefits of a potentially grueling conditioning program. Athletes that are “all in” will not only show enthusiasm and effort in conditioning, but they will also be more likely to practice healthy recovery and nutrition habits that will even further enhance the conditioning process.
Coaches can use several methods to instill and maintain motivation in their team. Here is a selection of motivational tips borrowed from Ian Jeffreys, owner/operator of All-Pro Performance in Brecon, Wales:
Value the Athletes
Athletes that feel valued and that share a common goal with the coach and the rest of the team are more likely to enthusiastically participate in conditioning exercises. Each athlete is different, so coaches that assess each athlete’s conditioning goals can more adequately maintain each athlete’s level of motivation in reaching those goals.
Show Their Progress
Initially motivating an athlete to train is far easier than maintaining that motivation amid a physically and mentally challenging regimen. To keep their spirits high, coaches ought to be proactive in ensuring that their athletes see the progress they have made.
This can be accomplished through recording workouts (demonstrating positive conditioning trends as the season progresses), by rewarding fitness accomplishments (endurance goals, dash times, strength goals), and by maintaining an atmosphere of positive, verbal (and non-verbal) feedback during practice.
Be a Good Example
Far more is caught than taught, and this applies to athletic training as well. Coaches ought to model the nutrition, exercise, and sportsmanship habits that they wish to see in their team. By living out what is being taught, coaches can be a positive image for athletes to aspire to.
The team that trains well will perform well, and conditioning is a key element in professional youth football training. Use these foundational tips as a starting point for formulating and implementing a conditioning program for your team, and enjoy the fantastic benefits of a strong, conditioned set of athletes!
For more resources on athletic training, team motivation, and workout regimens, check out the National Strength and Conditioning Association’s website and explore their tools and tips for football training.
When it comes to player safety, you can always afford the best when you buy football equipment from SteelLocker Sports.
Photo: Jill Carlson (jillcarlson.org) / CC 2.0