Motion-Based Training is poised to be as powerful in Strength Coaching as just about any other analytics system in sport
Velocity-Based Training with Youth Athletes: Fostering Development, Learning, and Success
When it comes to training youth athletes, it's important for coaches to prioritize developmental goals beyond just the weight room. The four C's framework, encompassing Confidence, Competence, Connection, and Character, provides a valuable guide for evaluating and nurturing these goals. Velocity-Based Training (VBT) emerges as a promising approach to empower young athletes, promote a learning culture, and facilitate individualized training, ensuring their success both on and off the field.
Building Confidence, Connection, and Character
Confidence: Recognizing Achievement with Velocity PR's
Confidence is a critical element in youth athletic development. In strength training, setting and achieving Personal Records (PRs) can build and reinforce confidence. However, PRs may be less frequent in young athletes. VBT can fill this gap, by measuring and tracking PRs based on improvement in speed rather than load, offering a continuous sense of progress and allowing athletes to more frequently recognize their achievements and boost their confidence.
Connection: Fostering Camaraderie through Relative Strength Challenges
Youth athletes thrive when they feel connected with their peers. Instead of traditional strength-based leaderboards, coaches can use velocity-based individualized load to set up challenges based on relative strength. This approach creates a level playing field, encouraging healthy competition, camaraderie, and reducing conflict typical of hierarchical differences.
Character: Promoting Sportsmanship through Data-Driven Evaluation
Building character in youth athletes involves instilling values like sportsmanship and teamwork. By incorporating games and evaluations based on data, such as improvements in jump height or squat velocity, athletes have opportunities to cheer each other on and demonstrate good sportsmanship.
Communication is important for youth athletes. Adult athletes can lean on a longer lifetime of learned experiences to derive inspiration, motivation, and healthy habits. Younger individuals don’t have that luxury.
Inspiring High Performance
Youth athletes might not be innately motivated to perform at a high level. This lack of motivation can be due to a perceived ambiguity of exactly what high performance means, or how they bridge that gap. Defining high performance and developing levels of performance toward that goal can create a roadmap that sets youth athletes on a path toward being a high performer. One example can be charts of average concentric velocity at 1RM for different levels of athlete, a number that can be trained down over time with effort and skill. Another example is peak velocity for olympic lifts, where faster training velocities often correlate with higher 1RM’s. What's abundantly clear is that not just velocity-based feedback, but feedback in general has been shown to improve performance and motivate athletes, with more frequent feedback being even more consequential.
Where pressure in athletics can often be a strong motivator, pressure in youth sports has often been shown to correlate with burnout. To minimize athletic pressure, comparisons with others can be replaced with internal comparisons. Emphasis on competing with ones-self can reframe the outlook on normal competition, where external comparisons are unavoidable. Velocity gives youth athletes many opportunities to compete with themselves the previous week.
Data in general is a powerful tool to minimize pressure. Often a youth athlete will, in the absence of data or evidence, fill the gaps with assumptions of inadequacy or self doubt. If, for example, velocity loss can be pointed to as a measure of fatigue, and fatigue is a contributor to decreased performance, the athlete can focus on improving their sleep or nutrition instead of their own perceived faults.
It’s important to foster a learning culture in youth athletics. Young people have many years of schooling ahead of them, where their academic performance depends on their ability to respect the learning process. Although a simple approach including strength and conditioning basics can greatly improve youth athletic performance, teaching the science behind sports and training can be beneficial to establishing a learning environment. Velocity-based training gives youth athletes the opportunity to learn hands-on, by observing the correlation between velocity and exertion, and watching their metrics change over time.
Individualization is vital in youth athletics due to a long list of ever changing variables throughout childhood development.
Many Skill Levels (RTSC)
The variability in Resistance Training Skill Competency may be no greater than in youth athletics. Velocity Based Training offers many ways to evaluate RTSC so coaches can reliably classify athletes so they can receive appropriate training. Examples of such evaluations include jump testing, countermovement jump, Reactive Strength Index, post activation potentiation assessments, velocity at 1RM assessment, and many more.
Alongside skill level, maturity level is also at its greatest variability when coaching youth sports. Maturity is an important variable when assessing what type of training an athlete is prepared to endure. Velocity Based Training is often perceived as an advanced training methodology, which can be true when trusting an athlete to choose loads based on complicated numbers. If under coach supervision, or when using software that converts velocities to simple guidance, the acuity and autonomy required by youth athletes decreases significantly.
Individualizing youth training based on training age, or the number of years an athlete has been consistently exercising, can be a powerful tool in structuring a large program. Although youth athletes are often grouped by size or birth age, those two metrics don’t necessarily correlate with experience and skill. In fact, training age may be best understood as a composite of "chronological age, biological maturity, and training experience" and other factors. Utilizing a more comprehensive framework for classifying athletes can be helpful, although highly involved, but a direct assessment of experience or skill can take this concept a step further while making implementation much simpler. For example, velocity at one rep max (with good technique) is highly correlated with quality time spent training.
Periodization for youth athletes should differ from that written for older athletes in a number of ways. Variables related to experience, hormones, and overall body size can have implications on athlete programming needs.
Emphasis on Skill and Technique
Younger athletes have less experience, and thus they likely have a greater need to improve technical efficiency. Technical efficiency can be assessed in a number of ways, including the change in range of motion throughout a set, and across multiple sets or sessions. This data can be acquired quickly and easily with linear position transducers like RepOne Sensor.
De-emphasis on Volume Accumulation
Athletes who have yet to reach hormonal maturity might have a limited ability to build lean body mass. In youth athletes, strength increases are more likely to be due to neuromuscular adaptations. A focus on movement quality, via metrics like movement speed, can be beneficial at this stage.
Lower % of Volume Above 80% 1RM
Because of the focus on technical efficiency and movement quality, it’s beneficial to reduce the amount of high intensity training volume a youth athlete completes. Dynamic effort training, or other styles of training that are on the higher end of the force velocity curve, are useful for focusing periodization in the appropriate range.
The frequency of 1RM testing, which sees the athlete test loads much higher than 80% 1RM, can be reduced by estimating 1RM with reliable e1RM tools. Load velocity charts are a powerful tool to do just that.
It can be difficult to find resistance training equipment that is suitable for the small size of youth athletes. Further, this equipment can be quite expensive. Some of the most affordable specialized equipment for smaller athletes is the youth barbell. Periodization for barbell training, including the snatch, clean, jerk, squat, bench, deadlift, and strict press, are all ideal exercises for tracking via linear position transducers like RepOne Sensor.
Another simple and affordable training type for youth athletes is plyometrics, calisthenics, or bodyweight exercise in general. These types of movements can be assessed by repetition count, but only if nearing maximal perceived exertion. If coaches want to avoid high training intensity when assessing improvement, changes in speed or power produced during these movements can be a good alternative. Exercises like weighted or unweighted jumps, supported or unsupported pullups, or dynamic dumbbell work can all be tracked with velocity as a measure of progress alongside repetition count.
Velocity-Based Training offers a transformative approach to training youth athletes. By nurturing the four C's, inspiring high performance, minimizing pressure, and fostering a learning culture through individualization, coaches can empower young athletes to reach their full potential.