In a series of blog posts, the Sun Tri Sports coaches will explain our philosophy when it comes to training children and young athletes. We will dive deeper into some aspects of training, athletic development, competition and expectations. First up, we discuss training for children.
Children need to train differently than adults
There is a need to differentiate between training adults and training children. They have different processes of adaptation to the different sports qualities: speed, strength, endurance, coordination and agility. For children, it depends on: physiological age, mental age, hormonal maturation and sex. Also, physical and mental developments are not always in sync. We are mentally not fully developed until age 20-25. Until then, children should train differently from adults. It is the responsibility of the sports educator to take into account these differences for the correct progression of the child’s training. Therefore, the coach must at least have a basic knowledge of child- and sports psychology.
Athletic performance goes up and down
Another aspect to take into account is that growth spurts and puberty influence the balance between body parts. A sudden growth spurt could mean that the biomechanical balance is somewhat disturbed and a child would need to adapt his or her technique, learn new motoric patterns and maybe even have a dip in athletic performance as a result. Kids will therefore not perform at the same level for years. Improvements are not linear; they go up and down instead. This also means that sudden improvements in athletic performances can occur. Parents should be aware of that fact and adjust expectations accordingly.
Different training at different physical ages
Sports research (“Long Term Athlete Development”, Balyi, Way, Higgs, 2013) shows that in the physiological age of children there are windows of opportunity where specific aspects of training are adapted more efficiently that other aspects. For instance: endurance training is better done at a later age, whereas technique training is more effective at a much younger age. These windows of opportunity not only depend on age; they even differ between boys and girls. Similarly, there are ages (or age windows) where certain types of training are not very helpful or could potentially even harm kids´development. Strength training or cross-fit training for young children is not advisable.
At the duathlon and triathlon school of Club Deportivo Sun Tri Sports and in our private coaching sessions with children, we try to incorporate the principle of LTAD as much as possible. At an early age, we strongly focus on developing techniques. It is important to work on the specific technique of the triathlon sports when kids are small since their motoric schemes are not yet fully developed and “fixed” and therefore easier to “modify” into the right technique. This is one of the reasons we advise our children to start cycling training on mountain bikes. Compared to a road bike, riding a MTB is more about bike handling skills than speed. Also, we promote high cadence, i.e. neuromuscular training over high force, low cadence training. The latter is simply too much strength training for kids. For swimming and running, we also favour technique drills over endurance and speed exercises. Once a week, we train agility, moving quickly in different directions, plyometric (jumping) and even ball games. Though these exercises might not be seen as directly related to triathlon, they will contribute strongly to becoming well-rounded triathletes.
Fun training nurtures regular training
We believe balancing play and competition is key. Both are important objectives and do sometimes overlap; just watch a “playful” relay race between two groups of kids. Competition often equals fun for children. However, we try to vary between game and competition. This way, the children will be able to develop both (social) values from playing and having fun together as well as develop crucial values and (mental) strengths associated with competition.
Equally important is our club feeling. At all times, the children should feel to be part of one Sun Tri Sports team. We do not allow subgroups to be formed. At every training session, we actively work to create our “one-group-mentality”. New kids, joining the club, are assigned to more experienced “mentor kids” that, during the first weeks, have the task to make sure the new members feel at ease and will feel part of the team. Those mentors are even being told to prioritise the mentorship over their own training. Guess how important they feel and how much effort they put in such a crucial task!
– The Sun Tri Sports Coaches