The importance of a proper strength and conditioning program has now become an integral component in a young athlete’s development. At Novanta, our vision is to develop movement foundations at a young age to better prepare athletes for more advanced forms of training as they progress through the levels of play – as previously discussed with the 10 Pillar Approach for Successful LTAD and the Youth Physical Development model. During the early ages of childhood development, there are windows where qualities such as coordination and fundamental movement patterns, will inadvertently improve elements such as strength, speed, and power. As a result, this will aid in sport performance and injury prevention. The aim is to develop well-rounded athletes and not focus exclusively on their capacities within their chosen sports.
A Strength and Conditioning (S&C) Coach can have a positive impact on a young athlete by becoming the architect for their physical development. Just as teachers create environments for their students to meet academic potential, an S&C coach will do the same but for athletic development. That is, S&C coaches specialize in creating an optimal environment for a young athlete to develop and thrive under a watchful eye. Moreover, as teachers provide a roadmap and build on previous knowledge and skills, S&C coaches will challenge athletes with proper progressions to push them to their athletic potential. Thus, an S&C coach can be seen as a specialist when it comes to developing and delivering gym and field-based programs, athlete evaluation, monitoring and providing extensive individualized reporting. (Massey, Schwind, Andrews & Maneval 2009).
Delivering Gym and Field-based Programs
In the age of social media, we are constantly bombarded with various training philosophies, new equipment, “the next best exercise” and so forth. As a result, it is often hard to disseminate what is grounded in actual science or is just a fad spreading across the internet. It is thus vital that a program is structured in way that will elicit lasting training foundations and adaptations, and not just elicit a sweat or simply make someone tired – a structured S&C program is ultimately a goal-orientated program. At Novanta, we ensure that our work is both evidence-based and practice-lead. Our evidence-based approach ensures that we are current with published scientific literature and implement it to continuously challenge, update and perfect our work. We also rely on a practice-lead approach when prescribing programs for future training, as we have amassed invaluable information through years of work experience and testing.
Even though S&C coaches use strength, agility, and conditioning drills to improve athletic performance, there is also a place for creating a fun learning environment for the young athlete. In doing so, an S&C coach can educate the young athlete on foundational movement as it applies to their sport, but also provide rationale for doing things such as warm-ups, cool-downs, physical activities, and exercise. This provides athletes with a set of movement tools they can take and apply to any athletic endeavour they choose to participate in for the rest of their lives.
Athlete Monitoring, Evaluation and Reporting
If you are not tracking and monitoring progress, then how do you know if you are improving? Just like a teacher provides their students with exams to see if they have learned the material, an S&C coach will run athletes through a battery of tests to track their athletic progress over time. Some of the qualities that can be measured include speed, endurance, and power. At Novanta, we make sure that athletes are not only improving physically but are doing so in a way that puts their movement quality at a premium. Hence, we regularly assess movement proficiency at multiple levels (i.e., joint mobility, exercise technique, running and change of direction mechanics) to ensure that young athletes are on the right track in developing their physical literacy. In doing so, we make sure the athlete can self-organize and manage their body through various movement patterns which enables physical development and movement proficient in their given sport.
In summary, an S&C coach in a youth setting is more than just a ‘fitness coach’. They serve as educators of physical literacy by providing goal-orientated programs and a framework to track their improvement to ultimately maximize their athletic potential, while remembering that youth sport needs an element of fun to foster learning in a supportive and motivating environment.
Massey CD, Schwind JJ, Andrews DC, Maneval MW. An analysis of the job of strength and conditioning coach for football at the Division II level. J Strength Cond Res. 2009 Dec;23(9):2493-9. doi: 10.1519/JSC.0b013e3181bbe9b6. PMID: 19910825.