7 Steps to Programming for Young Athletes

This is a guest blog courtesy of Brian Grasso.

Template Design is a style of programming that has yet to truly catch on industry-wide, but is remarkably effective; especially when working with younger, sport-based populations.

Although I enjoy articles that are weighty in scientific specifics and complete in the depiction of the theories they are purporting, I also tend to benefit as much, often more, from less wordy commentaries that are pithy in nature.

So today, brevity wins.

In the current state of our industry (and I admit, this may be a terribly unpopular statement) we tend to over-scrutinize from a formal assessment perspective; the expense being common sense and practicality.

An explanation may be in order….

If a 13-year old presents, through formal assessment, with a ‘poor’ forward lunge pattern, what does that really tell us?

Does he lack Glute strength or activation?

Are her hip flexors too tight to create a positive forward translation?

Is it a foot issue (that I dare say less than 1% of Fitness Professionals are truly qualified to ascertain)?

Is it a structural abnormality?

Now, the corrective exercise folk among us have all just raised their hands thirsty to share the knowledge of how to ‘fix’ this barely teen… But let me ask another couple questions first…

Does the kid just not know how to do a lunge?  Could the ‘poor’ result be ‘fixed’ with 3 minutes of proper coaching and cueing?

At 13, has peak height velocity (PHV) begun, rendering this young athletes’ mobility and coordination nearly non-existent?

Moreover, I’d be willing to bet that 90% or better of the 13 year olds who walk into your facility would ‘fail’ this standard assessment:

  • They’re growing and lack mobility.
  • They growing and lack coordination.
  • They sit all day and have inappropriate hip functionality as a result.
  • They’ve been introduced to improper ‘training’ and lack posterior strength.

A formal assessment can certainly show us gains, improvements and corrections when performed at regular intervals – and because of that, I am all for them.

But here’s what I’ve learned to be true about coaching young athletes in the trenches:

  • You see them less than you’d like to and the ‘homework’ you give them in the way of corrective exercise likely isn’t getting done – at very least not the way you’d want it done
  • Your time with them per session is finite, but there’s a whole-lot-o-stuff that needs to be worked on
  • Group and team training is almost always the way it goes – any sort of individualized attention must be created through a systematic approach to coaching and programming
  • Yes, we all preach to our young athletes the virtue of lessening the load and concentrating on form… But, in the high school weight room when you’re not around, but their peers are, guess whose loading the bar?

This is not a declaration to abandon assessments altogether, nor is it a manifesto encouraging you to throw your hands up in the air and announce the situation hopeless.

It’s a simple decree suggesting that your programming practice could aid a great deal in curbing this problem – and doing so not by what you discover ‘formally’ through assessment, but what you know to be true about young athletes:

  • They sit all day long, which means –
    • They are kyphotic and lack thoracic mobility (and therefore proper scapular function).
    • They have tight, weak hips that also lack function.
  • They don’t have proper strength and conditioning care outside of you, which means –
    • ROM is compromised in all major joints.
    • Form and function of lift technique is entirely unfamiliar.

Over the years, I have grown fond of referring to these issues as the ‘Likely Bunch’ and have created a training template intended to meet of the aforementioned needs as a matter of principle rather than what an assessment tells me.

Rather than programming for the day, week or month, my standard Training Template for a high school athlete looks as follows:

  1. Tissue Quality – 10 minutes
  2. ROM/Torso/Activation – 10 minutes
  3. Movement Preparatory – 10 minutes
  4. Movement – 10 minutes
  5. Strength/Power Technique – 10 minutes
  6. Strength Execution – 10 minutes
  7. Warm-Down/Active Flexibility – 10 minutes

The ’10-minute’ time frame represents a maximum (with 5 minutes being the minimum).  A 7-Step Programming Template that takes anywhere from 45 – 70 minutes to complete.

I have 30 – 50 exercises listed in my personal database for each category and select on a given day, what each athlete will work on.

An example day may look like this:

  1. Foam Roll (Glutes, Hamstrings, Quads, ITB)
  2. Ankle Mobility, Hip Circuit, Side Planks, Supine Bridges
  3. Various Multi-Directional Movement Patterns (including skipping, hopping and deceleration)
  4. Lateral Deceleration into Transitions
  5. Front Squat Technique
  6. Hybrid Complex – Hang Clean, Front Squat, Push-Press, Overhead Lunge
  7. Static-Active Hamstrings/Quads

Within this template, I’m guaranteeing my young athletes get what they need from a developmental and preparatory standpoint each and every time they walk in my door.

Create a Training Template for yourself and see how much easier programming becomes.


Brian Grasso has trained more than 15,000 young athletes worldwide over the past decade.  He is the Founder and CEO of the International Youth Conditioning Association – the only youth-based certification organization in the entire industry.  For more information, visit www.IYCA.org

(Lead photo courtesy of KG and Soccer)


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