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  • Youth track question

    It's Junior Olympic time once again, and it got me to thinking about our next generation of track athletes. I hear so many stories about burnout and whatnot, and athletes who "peak" when they're 14.

    Should athletes who show potential simply wait until high school before sprinting and running competitively? I wonder if the body has only so many races and whether athletes should bother risking injury or simply wearing down before the really important years, which are the high school years.

    Track isn't like basketball and tennis and golf, where youth athletes must get an early start in order to develop specific skills that take years to perfect. Many Olympians didn't start running competitively until 9th or 10th grade.

    I'm no expert on youth track so I wanted to get the opinions of those who have ample experience in the area. Fire away.

  • #2
    I would play sports in general and not get serious with track until starting high school. And stay away from any heavy lifting until start of high school, and even then focus on teaching the lifts with great skill before going up to anything remotely heavy.

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    • #3
      I think it just depends on the kid. If they are injury-prone, they should take things easy, but some kids are incredibly resilient. If they really like track, let them compete! If they want to play other sports let them do that too.

      Parents should be letting the kids make the bulk of the decisions about what to do and how much of it. They need guidance, and someone to keep them from making unwise decisions, but it's their lives and they should be the driver, regardless of talent level.

      I did a LOT of gymnastics in high school, picked up track my junior year and cross country my senior year. I loved having 2-3 practices a day, 5 days a week, plus meets on some weekends. My parents were not athletic and never pushed me into anything. My grades were good and I was happy, so they didn't really hold me back either.

      But I think most kids like having some balance and a social life, I never really had one of those. I don't regret it though, I spent my childhood doing stuff I loved and I stayed out of trouble.

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      • #4
        Re: Youth track question

        Originally posted by vip
        Track isn't like basketball and tennis and golf, where youth athletes must get an early start in order to develop specific skills that take years to perfect. Many Olympians didn't start running competitively until 9th or 10th grade.
        I won't be hostile here, but this part of your post needs serious review. SERIOUS REVIEW!!!

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        • #5
          Well, let's see: Lauryn Williams said she didn't take track seriously until high school, Felix didn't start until late in junior high, Tyson Gay was no 12-year-old phenom, Marion Jones I believe played basketball first, and so on. Yes, a good number of Olympians weren't on the track as 7-year-olds. I see no reason to seriously review anything.

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          • #6
            Originally posted by vip
            Well, let's see: Lauryn Williams said she didn't take track seriously until high school, Felix didn't start until late in junior high, Tyson Gay was no 12-year-old phenom, Marion Jones I believe played basketball first, and so on. Yes, a good number of Olympians weren't on the track as 7-year-olds. I see no reason to seriously review anything.
            In the more technical events, there is a benefit to starting early. US pole vaulters are at a disadvantage over the rest of the world, most don't start until age 14 or 15, when most of the rest of the world has begun learning the basics of technique by age 12 or so (of course it also helps significantly that most of those foreign athletes are getting solid coaching from day 1, where most US pole vaulters are not).

            Young children are capable of doing incredible things, just step inside a gymnastics club. There's nothing wrong with a 9-year-old kid focusing on track if that is what they enjoy, and they are not being overtrained. I would guess that a majority of kids enjoy the social aspects of team sports like soccer, but some youth track programs provide that kind of atmosphere as well.

            To go back to the original question, I don't think racing at a young age is detrimental later in life. Girls often peak early because puberty works against them. Having them start competing later usually means they just never reach as high of a peak. Kids might also peak around age 14 because they discover boys/girls/drugs/alcohol/being cool/having a life, and lose interest in training like they used to. There are parents who push kids too much, and the kids burn out and leave the sport, that happens in any sport, though in track it might be easier for them to drop out since they don't perceive themselves as being as important of a team member as a starting quarterback might.

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            • #7
              I feel it depends on what other activities/sports are being played, as well as the amount of those sports. If that child displays the talent in track & field at an early age, make sure you monitor the amount of activity, but by all means, go for it.
              on the road

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              • #8
                As Becca said, there's a big advantage to kids (esp. girls) starting the technical events in 7th grade (12/13 yo) vs. 9th grade. Earlier than that, I don't think so. In my experience, there is less to gain for a boy to start before puberty. I've had boy stars who couldn't do much of anything before then. The onset of puberty is, however, the perfect time to introduce a boy to the weight room, as natural PEDs are coursing through his veins! Just not an Oly weights program or 1 rep max stuff. The football coach's summer/fall regimen has done wonders with our boys.

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                • #9
                  I coach for a youth football (American tackle) team for which we have a middle linebacker who's a pretty good youth track 800m runner. Combining the two sports has become difficult for him as the boy is at the track at 7:30am for track workouts with a guy who is a college track coach 3 times a week and then comes out for football practice at 6pm. At this time of year football practice is a lot of conditioning and lasts about 2 1/2 hours. It's fairly stressful.

                  The kid is an excellent player and the dad told me that the track coach was upset that the kid seemed to be dragging through some of his track work that morning. The conversation got to the point in which the track coach told the kid he'd have to choose one or the other.

                  The child is 12 years old. I told the father to find another track coach. Ironically, the head football coach for this team is a High School track coach and is probably more versed in the sport than the college coach based on the athletes they've coached.

                  My opinion is that the kids should play whatever sports they wish to while being monitored by the parents for over stress. I would conclude that two periods of stressful training a day is too much for a 12 year old.

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                  • #10
                    Originally posted by vip
                    Well, let's see: Lauryn Williams said she didn't take track seriously until high school, Felix didn't start until late in junior high, Tyson Gay was no 12-year-old phenom, Marion Jones I believe played basketball first, and so on. Yes, a good number of Olympians weren't on the track as 7-year-olds. I see no reason to seriously review anything.
                    Where do i begin. O.k. its not worth effort but let me ask this; Have you ever been coached for a track or field event? Have you ever competed for track team? if the honest answer to these are no I will desist from botherng you.

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                    • #11
                      The flip side of the late-starters mentioned above are all the potential t&f athletes who get snapped up by other sports before high school and never give track a try because they were never introduced to it.

                      Pre-high school athletes should try a variety of sports and not specialize until high school. In this regard, track & field has an advantage over some other sports. We don't need to have a minimum or maximum number on the field as sports such as soccer, baseball, and football do. Out youth teams can be more fluid and less rigid, allowing youths to be introduced to the sport but not overwhelmed and burnt out - if the program does it right. I can't stand the youth soccer folks, for example, who tell kids they have to do soccer 24/7 & 365 at the age of eight or nine, and they must try only one position.

                      In short, we should teach kids about the sport, and do not overdo the intervals and mileage at a young age. If they excel, it is a bonus but not the aim of the program. And we should be especially careful when a young athlete hits a growth spurt as it is a prime time for injuries.

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                      • #12
                        Start training early but work on general things.
                        You dont have a 7 year old run a workout of 4x30m+6x60m at full speed/full recovery then hit the plyometrics and the weight room..
                        You play some games (tons of games that emphacize speed/general fitness) and teach some general techniques along the way.

                        Do a occasional long run (10-12 mins only)

                        Teach the athlete to become a pro at skipping! (excellent way to develop fitness, coordination and muscle elasticity)

                        Do some core work + body weight exercises

                        Keep speed work distances limited down, (30m or so) depending on age and go up a bit to 40-50m sometimes. If athletes very young, stick almost entirely to 20-25m.

                        No special endurance work! Till puberty happens, no runs all out over 150m.

                        No high intensity plyometrics, whats the benefit anyway? They can develop elasticity by skipping and gaining some general strength, plus no one at this age has the skill level to execute these correctly and will injure something along the way anyway.

                        Goal should be at this age/level to develop and maintain interest while developing basic physical skills and fitness.

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                        • #13
                          Originally posted by track_expert
                          Teach the athlete to become a pro at skipping! (excellent way to develop fitness, coordination and muscle elasticity)
                          I coach 6-year-olds in soccer and bounding is definitely the way to go for both strength work and cardio. We do all the same things my track kids do, esp. my fave - hop-bounding with heel recovery up to the butt. They get better very quickly and it makes them stronger (i.e. faster) and fitter than their peers.

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                          • #14
                            Originally posted by Marlow
                            Originally posted by track_expert
                            Teach the athlete to become a pro at skipping! (excellent way to develop fitness, coordination and muscle elasticity)
                            I coach 6-year-olds in soccer and bounding is definitely the way to go for both strength work and cardio. We do all the same things my track kids do, esp. my fave - hop-bounding with heel recovery up to the butt. They get better very quickly and it makes them stronger (i.e. faster) and fitter than their peers.
                            Isnt bounding generally a pretty tough thing to try and teach young kids? vs. something like.. power skips ?

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