SPEED IMPROVEMENT AND STAGES OF PHYSICAL DEVELOPMENT
A main concern of most parents is how to identify training progrms that are both safe and effective for their young athlete. The first step in answering this question is for parents to determine the current developmental stage of each child with the help of their physician, if needed. The task is to make certain the young athlete has reached a physiological age that allows them to safely benefit from either a modified speed improvement program for early adolescents or the complete program for late adolescent and adult athletes.
Pre Adolescent Athletes. Athletes who have not reached the age of puberty and show no signs of developmental changes can safely engage in some training programs such as flexibility training (stretching), form training, speed endurance training and limited sprint-assisted training to increase stride rate. Plyometric training, weight training, speed-strength training, and sprint loading are not recommended.
Early Adolescent Athletes. The beginning of adolescence involves the growth spurt at the onset of puberty. Rapid growth of the long bones (arms and legs) takes place and changes body proportions. In females, puberty begins with breast development, presence of pubic hair, followed by first menstruation; in males by the level of development of secondary sex traits such as facial hair, pubic hair and genitals. There is also an increase in muscle mass in boys and body fat in girls. These changes usually takes place between 10 1/2 – 12 years of age in females and 12 ½ – 14 years of age in males although some individuals will not reach this stage until 2-3 years later. Since boys and girls are more likely to be injured during this period, training programs must be carefully supervised. Some programs, such as weight training, also produce very little increase in muscle strength and size in pre- and early adolescent athletes and are not helpful at this early age. Prior to the Late Adolescent period, young athletes should devote most of their time to skill development in their sport, learning proper starting and sprinting form, and practicing various forms of sprint-assisted training suitable for their age level. The program should be designed to prevent unnecessary injury, avoid interference with growth and development and lay the foundation for the complete speed improvement program that begins in Late Adolescence
Late Adolescent and Adult Athletes. The slowing or end of the growth spurt and the presence of secondary sex traits for several years suggests that the athlete is in the late adolescent or adult stage of growth and development and ready to respond to more vigorous training. It is important to keep in mind that age is a poor indicator of maturity at any stage of growth and development prior to the adult years and should only be used as a guide. Wrist X-ray and other tests may be done by a physician to more accurately determine the end of the growth spurt in both males and females. This normally occurs after age 13-14 in females and 15-16 in males although some individuals may not reach this stage until stage 2-3 years later. Athletes at this stage of growth and development should follow a complete speed improvement program using all training methods.
The Complete Speed Improvement Program for Late Adolescent and Adult Athletes. Warm-up, Dynamic Stretching, Form Training, Sprint-assisted Training, Speed Endurance Training, Sprint Loading, Speed-strength Training, Plyometrics, Short-all out sprints, Cool-down, and Static Stretching.
The Speed Improvement Program for Early Adolescent Athletes. Warm-up, Dynamic Stretching, Form Training, Modified Weight training (functional strength foundation consisting of light weight and high repetitions), Sprint Loading (uphill sprinting only), Speed Endurance training, Sprint-assisted Training, Cool-down and Static Stretching.
The Speed Improvement Program for Preadolescents. This is the ideal age to develop correct sprinting form through the use of a good Form Training Program that involves a coach or knowledgeable adult. The start and the “drive” phase is also important for young athletes to learn how to accelerate from a slow jog in a “crouched” position. By the time most athletes reach the Late Adolescent stage, they have so many flaws in their technique that it is difficult to ever achieve correct sprinting form. The poor form of 80-90% of young athletes is considered by many to be a flaw in the physical education system. This is also the age where stride rate reaches its all-time high and, according to Soviet sports experts, is the ideal time to use a modified sprint-assisted program such as towing. After 3-4 four weeks of form training and short distance speed endurance training, a sprint-assisted program can be used once weekly for three weeks followed by 1-2 times weekly for three weeks.
Editor’s Note: Specific workouts for the three stages of growth and development
are included in the book: Speed Improvement for Young Athletes: How to Sprint
Faster in Your Sport in 30 Workouts ©2006; available at naseinc.com