Youth soccer is firmly entrenched in American culture. It has a coveted spot somewhere between apple pie, the Fourth of July, and cable news channels. Also entrenched in American culture is the idea that strength training for children is dangerous and counterproductive, even though science has repeatedly shown it to be both safe and effective. A recent study in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research examined the effect of introducing a strength training program to a group of young soccer players.
Each child in the study was eight or nine years old and had never performed any training outside his sport. The researchers wanted to determine if strength and conditioning training would improve the performance of these young athletes. They designed a 26-week training program layered on top of the players’ existing soccer-specific training. They broke the players into two groups: a control group of athletes who performed their usual soccer-specific training, and a test group of kids who added strength and conditioning training to their soccer training. The researchers tested each child before, during, and after the program to compare results.
The strength and conditioning program used in the test was very simple. Children trained twice a week for thirty minutes per session. The session involved quarter-squats, jumps, weighted jumps, and sprinting. At the end of the 26 weeks, researchers compared the control group to the strength and conditioning group.
The strength and conditioning group improved in jump height, endurance, and flexibility, while the control group that only played soccer actually became worse in all those measures. Curiously, both groups displayed worse fifteen-meter sprints than before the research. Researchers theorize this might have been due to the changes in height and proportions the children encountered over the course of the test. Nine-year-old children grow quite a bit in half a year, and their changes in proportions seem to have made their sprint times worse, regardless of how they trained.
This research adds to the myriad other studies showing that kids can perform strength and conditioning training just as safely and effectively as adults. Strength and conditioning training is also much safer than traditional youth sports. Rates of injury per 1,000 hours of training are much lower for weight training than sports like soccer. If that’s surprising, run through a quick thought experiment with me. A kid in a gym being supervised by a strength and conditioning professional is well controlled. The professional can precisely monitor loads, reps, and technique. The professional can tailor the training to the kid’s current ability. Now imagine two children running full-speed towards each other on a soccer or football field. When they collide, that is an inherently uncontrollable event with unpredictable consequences. Which carries the higher risk, strength training or sports?
I don’t want to dissuade you from involving your child in sports. I want to show you that strength training is much safer than youth soccer, the darling activity for the kids of thirty-something moms everywhere. So why wouldn’t you want your child to be involved in strength training?
1. Carlos Ferrete, et al. Effect of Strength and High-Intensity Training on Jumping, Sprinting, and Intermittent Endurance Performance in Prepubertal Soccer Players. Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research. February 2014 – Volume 28 – Issue 2 – p 413–422. doi: 10.1519/JSC.0b013e31829b2222
Photo courtesy of Shutterstock.