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When to start your child in an athletic development program? What does the science say?

When to start your child in an athletic development program? What does the science say?


When to start your child in an athletic development program? What does the science say?

Parents often asked to train children as young as 4, 5, 6 and 7 (which should be refused) Other parents try to convince trainers why their 7 year old is a superior athlete and is “ready” for an athletic training program. This article explains why a sports performance trainer can start working with athletes at age 8 and more importantly the science behind this age. A trainer should evaluate 8, 9, 10, and 11 years old to determine if they are ready for an organized athletic training. The two main considerations are physical readiness and psychological readiness. Children mature both physically and emotionally at very different rates and some are just not ready at an early age.  This article was written because parents get misinformation from friends, coaches, and even sports trainers.

Question #1: Why age 8 as a starting age? Let’s look at the science.

Human muscle innervation is completed around 6–7 years of age (Grasso 2005). This implies that the brain has formed its neural connections to the muscular system and that optimization of these connections can begin. This makes it more possible to perform coordinated activities. By 10–12 years of age, reflexive motor patterns are conditioned and relatively permanent (Grasso 2005). These findings suggest that introducing proper motor skills between the age of muscle innervation and the age of permanent motor pattern formation may be advantageous (Drabik 1996).

Research indicates there is a window between and 8 and 12 where enormous motor skill and movement gains can be achieved and this window starts to close at 12 and it closes by age 16. (Grasso 2005).

The International Sports Science Association states that children between 5 and 12 should be taught fundamental skills for movement, agility, strength, endurance and muscle growth.  (ISSA Sept 2015) There is a reason elite Olympic athletes often start as early as age 4 in both sports specific and athletic performance training, I am not a fan of this early training due to socialization problems but am just pointing out early training is a key in elite performance.

The most important factor in determining if your youngster should be in M-powers program is emotional maturity. Beyond being able to focus and work in a small group the child must be ready to understand that we are working to make their body better and they must buy in on training as method of personal improvement. There is nothing more satisfying to a trainer to be able to see the smile and joy on a young face when they achieve something they thought they could never do. At Mpower we teach children to never let their mind place limitations on their body.

The key component is your child benefiting from this type of training at a young age has nothing to do with the training itself it is all about the atmosphere. Training at this age MUST be positive, fun, and engaging. Children are often emotionally fragile at this age and positive reinforcement and helping them develop pride, satisfaction, and confidence in their physical accomplishments help develop them both as a person and an athlete.

Question #2: What benefits are there for very young athletes from an athletic performance program?

A physically and mentally capable youngster benefits from a well-designed program that increases motor coordination, strength, aerobic capacity, flexibility, bone health and a variety of other physical traits (Faigenbaum et al. 2009).  Current research has not discovered any overt clinical injuries during properly designed and supervised resistance training at any age (Faigenbaum et al. 2009) and habits that will mold his lifestyle for years to come.

Children of any age can benefit from organized training as long as they have the physical, mental and emotional maturity to address the demands of an appropriate, well-designed program in a positive, engaging environment

M-Power Sports Performance blog by Mike Baker – next we will look at how very young athletes should train

Drabik, J.. Children & Sports Training. Island Pond, VT: Stadion.

Grasso, B.J.. Training Young Athletes: The Grasso Method. Schaumburg, IL: Developing Athletics.

ISSA website Christina Klein Sept 2015

Faigenbaum, A.D., et al. 2009. Youth resistance training: Updated position statement paper from the National Strength and Conditioning Association. The Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 23 (5), S60–S79.

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