Technique Is Most Important
When training young athletes, the main thing you should be focused on is technique. It is important for all athletes, but it is especially true for younger athletes as it will set them up for a successful life in physical activity if done correctly. If not focused on at a young age, they could end up injured, or have their long-term development hampered as it is much more difficult to improve technique at later ages and once bad movement patterns/habits have been formed.
The Russians found that technique was best learnt between 6-12 years of age. Skills such as running and jumping, were well formed by 10-11 as they focused on teaching the kids optimal technique in elementary and secondary skills.
I feel this is something that we are missing these days. I watch a lot of kids play sport and the coordination and skill level of the kids is dropping very quickly. Whilst there are many factors that go into this such as the increased use of technology etc., we also don’t teach the kids who are active and want to be involved in sport the correct techniques. We just assume they can all run and jump properly. Even the better athletes can improve their technique so I think it is something we should be focusing on a lot more.
The other problem that arises is that most coaches can’t coach proper technique either. This is why I highly recommend people to see the best in given fields. For example, if you want to learn proper sprinting mechanics, then go and see someone like Roger Fabri who produces a lot of results with a lot of athletes. I have read a lot of books, been coached by a lot of sprint coaches, and have done seminars with some great coaches but I still can’t teach the technique as well as someone like Roger, so I refer out. Same goes for Tom’s Dad down the road. Just because he was a fast runner doesn’t mean he can teach you the optimal running technique you need.
In the gym we spend a lot of time working on technique. I often get asked what age can kids start coming to see us and I say as soon as they want. We have 9 and 10 year old’s start with us. We don’t load them up with heavy weights, we focus on improving their technique and other physical qualities. Strength is gained due to this but adding weight to the bar isn’t the main focus. We are trying to set them up so that once the time comes for them to start focusing on increasing their strength levels, they can do it more safely and so they can make faster progress.
Too often I see coaches worrying about how much their athletes can lift. This shouldn’t be at the expense of technique. I battle with this a lot. Most of my day is spent trying to hold our young athlete’s back. They want to keep adding weight to the bar and beat their previous lifts which is great, but I have to keep thinking long term and make sure their technique is improving. It is very easy to get excited about their progress and let them get ahead of themselves.
If I do let them continue to increase the load, chances are technique will deteriorate, and injury will follow close by. The goal is to have the last rep in the set look exactly like the first. As they begin to understand this, they start to make better calls as to when to end the set and aren’t as reliant upon myself to tell them when to stop. They begin to feel when they may have changed their technique slightly from one rep to the next which is better than my eye at times. This takes a long time to develop but I think the rewards are
well worth it.