Fitness as a Means of Developing Youth Athletes


By: Clint Davis and Gerald Masterson, Ph.D.

"You must realize one thing. In every little village in the world there are great potential champions who only need motivation, development, and good exercise evaluation." Arthur Lydiard

There are many factors that make up a quality athlete. Some factors are unchangeable genetic factors. Others require years of work on skills and knowledge of the sport. Fitness is one factor that can be developed at a young age and enhanced throughout life. The body's ability to participate in all aspects of sport including speed, strength, and endurance will always need to be improved and should be the first aspects examined when developing an athlete. There are two key body systems that, if improved, will help a young athlete to perform better in nearly every sport.

The individual's anaerobic and aerobic condition provides the basis for victory or defeat in nearly every sport. Anaerobic conditioning helps with speed, strength, and even agility. Aerobic conditioning gives the athlete the endurance needed in nearly every athletic event. If a young athlete focuses on developing these two aspects, they will develop a base that will help them develop potential in whatever sport they pursue.

In today's world, too many athletes, coaches, and even parents would rather have quick success rather than success over time that results from proper fitness and skill techniques. Would you rather have your athlete win a Pee Wee football championship, or a Super bowl championship? Many parents and coaches do not look past the present in order to see what proper development can do for an athlete. If a young athlete is to succeed over time, they must develop a basic level of overall fitness that will help them as they mature in the sport and in life.

The anaerobic system is the athlete's first line of energy. In nearly every sport, anaerobic performance is important. Anaerobic is known as the ability of the body to work in the absence of oxygen. The body can only work in an anaerobic state between thirty seconds and two minutes at a time. The anaerobic system is used for short bursts of speed or strength in activities.

In track and field, a sprinter is almost always in an anaerobic zone. Baseball players can stay anaerobic for much of a game due to breaks in between plays. Even football players spend most of their time on the anaerobic side of conditioning, depending upon the playing time and position. As long as the short bursts of speed and energy are not too long and enough time is available to recover, an athlete may never leave the need for anaerobic power.

Training activity for anaerobic power can include a number of activities from running form exercises, sprint workouts, to weight lifting. Workouts can also be sport specific. When practicing for sport, the anaerobic system will be used consistently if the sport is played in bursts of speed or explosive maneuvers.

For more information about anaerobic conditioning please click on the following link: http://www.asmi.org/sportsmed/Performance/anaerobic.html

Aerobic conditioning helps to form the basic endurance needed in nearly any athletic endeavor. Aerobic is defined as the ability to utilize oxygen during exercise for the body's metabolic processes. Basically, any sustained activity longer than two minutes is aerobic in nature because the body switches to oxygen as its main fuel source. Sports like soccer, running, rugby, and basketball involve more action and less stoppage in play. Since the athlete is constantly moving for more than two minutes, they have reached their "aerobic zone". In order to train for endurance activities, athletes must perform workouts and practices that help them develop their aerobic capacity. Aerobic capacity describes the maximum amount of oxygen that the body can take in and use for energy.. A person's aerobic capacity can be influenced by two main factors. The first main factor is the total amount of oxygen that can physically be taken in by the lungs. Each person is limited in this factor and genetics can play a role. The second and most important factor is how efficiently the cardiovascular system can use the oxygen it takes in. This can be greatly enhanced as the body learns and adapts during aerobic training. Aerobic training can include a broad range of workouts including running and swimming exercises. Consistent aerobic training is imperative in nearly every sport. Depending upon the sport, however, more or less aerobic training should be emphasized. For more information about aerobic conditioning please click on the following link: http://www.asmi.org/sportsmed/Performance/aerobic.html

Combining these two aspects of overall fitness together into a plan that is sport specific can pose a challenge. For sports that emphasize the anaerobic system (like baseball), fitness plans should lean more toward the speed and strength aspects. The aerobic side, however, can not be overlooked in planning. When endurance is important in a sport aerobic conditioning should be placed at a higher priority. It should be emphasized to a greater degree. Below are links to basic conditioning concepts and ideas for various sports.

Another option is to begin an overall fitness program for a youth athlete. A general fitness plan will develop the strength, speed, and aerobic capacity while not being sport specific. At a young age, it is not always a good idea to push a child to be sport specific. How many professional athletes knew when they were ten years old that they would be playing their current sport on the highest level? There are very few were actually sport specific at such a young age. Most likely, they played a variety of sports and gained specific skills and conditioning from each. When their bodies began to develop later, they most likely became more suited for one sport or another and their athletic ability and overall fitness were better than others who were focused in one direction. A quality fitness program will emphasize a mix of both aerobic and anaerobic conditioning.

When coaching a young athlete, the short term specific sport success should not be a priority. The most important concept for young athletes to learn is personal fitness that will last a lifetime and help sport performance for years to come. By developing fitness plans for young people, a coach can give the athlete the base that is needed to excel in sport and be healthy throughout life.

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