Junior Athlete Development
By Mark Simpson, Accredited Exercise Physiologist
Our role as Accredited Exercise Physiologists is to help people Move Better, Feel Better & Perform Better. This simple goal summarises the work we put into each and every client, whether they are seeing us for Rehabilitation, Health, Fitness or Performance goals.
Junior athletes present us with a unique opportunity to teach good movement patterns at a developmental age as they have the ability to learn new skills/movement patterns at a rapid rate. Not only does this decrease injury risk in the short term, but lays the movement foundations for success later in life. Once an athlete has developed competent movement patterns, they can then load these same patterns via resistance training in adolescent years and beyond.
SO WHAT IS A JUNIOR ATHLETE?
Put simply, a junior athlete is anyone from 8-16 years of age who is regularly participating or competing in 1 or multiple sports at any level. It's important to note that there are many stages of development that occur across this age range, and as a result the specific advice varies, this article will cover general advice which is suitable for all junior athletes. Additionally, the key movement competencies discussed in this article apply to athletic development at every level, so would be suitable to implement for a 17-30+ year old who is commencing a training program with no background in Strength & Conditioning. Developing competent movement patterns as a skill is more important for long term injury reduction & performance optimisation than strength development alone, we term this "Learning before Loading".
SO WHAT ARE THESE KEY MOVEMENT PATTERNS?
Development of the below key movement competencies in junior athletes helps to decrease risk of both acute & overuse injury. These movements should be viewed as a skill, which need to be learned, as opposed to an exercise to simply get stronger or fitter. An example of this is the ability to land on a single leg with good control, which significantly reduces the risk of knee & ankle injuries. The best way to improve this is via skill acquisition, ie: Practice makes Perfect.
The below outlines a few key movement patterns, which we believe every junior athlete should develop. Whilst there are other important areas of development, these fundamentals are seen across the majority of programs. Additionally, these can be easily implemented at home or your local junior sports club.
Movement Coaching Cues
- Feet slightly wider than hips
- Hands in front/ Keep chest up
- Sit hips down & back
- Maintain Knee alignment with middle toes
- Strong movement on way up
Jump & Land
- Hands Up, Tall Posture
- Hands Down, Sit into Squat, keep chest high
- Explode Up, using arm swing to produce force
- Land on toes, bending hips & knees to absorb force
- Practice sticking the landing/ pause at bottom
Single Leg Jump & Land
- As above
- Place additional focus on maintaining knee alignment with middle toe
Single Leg Hip Hinge
- Single Leg with soft bend in knee
- Broomstick along back
- Hinge forward on Hip,
- Maintain broomstick contact on head, spine & hips
- Maintain knee alignment with middle toe