Strength Training for Young Soccer Players: Debunking Common Misconceptions
As you may already know, strength training is a vital component of any footballer who wants to make it to an elite level. However, there is a common misconception that strength training is dangerous for young athletes.
One of the main concerns is that strength training can damage the growth plates in young athletes. However, research has shown that properly designed strength training programmes do not pose a risk to growth plates in young athletes. In fact, strength training can be beneficial for bone development and density, which is particularly important during adolescence when bones are still growing and developing.
Another concern among parents of young players is the fear of injury. Yes, strength training does carry a risk of injury, but this risk is no greater than for any other physical activity. The key is to ensure that young athletes are using proper technique and are supervised by qualified coaches or trainers who can ensure that they are training in a safe way.
It's also worth noting that not all strength training is the same. There are many different types of strength training exercises and techniques and some may be more appropriate for young athletes than others.
For example, bodyweight exercises, resistance bands and medicine balls can be effective tools for developing strength and power without the use of heavy weights or equipment.
It's also important to consider training experience level. If a player is just starting their football training, they should first focus on skill development and general conditioning from simply playing. Once a good foundation of general strength and movement is developed from that, only then should they start to consider incorporating strength training into their routine.
Let's take a closer look at what the scientific evidence says about strength training and its suitability for young athletes:
1. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends that children can start strength training after the age of 8 years old. At this age, children's muscles and bones are developing and strength training can help improve their muscle strength and bone density. They note that it's crucial that children always start with a programme that is tailored to their age, experience and ability level.
2. According to the National Strength and Conditioning Association (NSCA), children can start with resistance training at the age of 7 or 8, as long as they are mature enough to follow instructions and maintain proper technique. Again they emphasise to make sure that the training programme is safe and age-appropriate, as excessive weight or improper technique can cause injury.
3. Several studies also support that strength training can be safe and effective for young athletes. For example, a study published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine found that strength training can be safe and effective for children as young as 6 years old and can improve muscular strength, power, endurance, bone density and reduce injury risk. Another study published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research further supports that resistance training can improve soccer-specific performance in young athletes.
It's clear that the key factors are that the training must be age-appropriate, supervised and incorporate safe exercises whilst ensuring correct technique.
In terms of the specific athletic performance benefits that young soccer players can gain from strength training, there are several key areas where it can be particularly beneficial:
Speed and agility: Strength training can improve a young footballer's ability to accelerate and change direction quickly.
Endurance: Strength training can also increase muscular endurance, allowing them to maintain their performance over the full course of a game or match.
Power: Strength training can enhance a young player's ability to generate explosive power, which is important for actions such as jumping, sprinting and shooting.
Injury prevention: Strength training can optimise a player's joint stability, which will help reduce the risk of injuries like ankle sprains and ACL tears.
Take a look at the research and graphics below for more information on strength training in young athletes.
If you'd like a fully tailored football specific plan for your child to benefit from with 1-1 guidance and feedback, check out our Youth Elite Programme (for players aged 12-18).
1. Faigenbaum, A. D., & Myer, G. D. (2010). Resistance training among young athletes: safety, efficacy and injury prevention effects. British journal of sports medicine, 44(1), 56-63.
2. Myer, G. D., Faigenbaum, A. D., Edwards, N. M., Clark, J. F., Best, T. M., & Sallis, R. E. (2011). Sixty minutes of what? A developing brain perspective for activating children with an integrative exercise approach. British journal of sports medicine, 45(7), 569-571.
3. Micheli, L. J., & Klein, J. D. (2004). The risks of resistance training in children. The Physician and Sportsmedicine, 32(6), 13-22.
4. Ramsay, J. A., Blimkie, C. J., Smith, K., Garner, S., MacDougall, J. D., & Sale, D. G. (1990). Strength training effects in prepubescent boys. Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise, 22(5), 605-614.
5. Behringer, M., vom Heede, A., Yue, Z., & Mester, J. (2011). Effects of resistance training in children and adolescents: a meta-analysis. Pediatrics, 126(5), e1199-e1210.
6. Lloyd, R. S., Faigenbaum, A. D., Stone, M. H., Oliver, J. L., Jeffreys, I., Moody, J. A., ... & Myer, G. D. (2014). Position statement on youth resistance training: the 2014 International Consensus. British journal of sports medicine, 48(7), 498-505.
7. Faigenbaum, A. D., & Lloyd, R. S. (2014). Pediatric resistance training: Benefits, concerns, and program design considerations. Current sports medicine reports, 13(3), 178-186.
8. Lloyd, R. S., & Oliver, J. L. (2012). The youth physical development model: A new approach to long-term athletic development. Strength and conditioning journal, 34(3), 61-72.
9. Lloyd, R. S., & Oliver, J. L. (2012). Strength and conditioning for soccer players. Strength and Conditioning Journal, 34(1), 1-13.