USA Basketball Coaches Corner: Strength Training
Hear from Ed Lacerte, USA Basketball Director of Player Health and Sports Performance, about the dos and don’ts regarding strength training.
What Should Coaches and Parents Prevent?
The easy answer is a coach should try to prevent an injury from occurring, whether it be in a strength training program or weightlifting program. Therefore, a basketball coach should not try to do it all but rather include a certified professional. There should be a testing period to assess flexibility, movement patterns and efficiency, and a child’s level of understanding of technique, to name just a couple of areas – this is individual and not the same for every child. It not only needs to be chronologically age appropriate but also developmentally appropriate as well.
Strength Training is Not the Same as Weightlifting
Do not confuse strength training with weightlifting or power lifting. Weightlifting emphasizes heavy weights and max lifts. The goal for youth athletes is not to produce better weightlifters. These activities can put too much of a strain on a child’s muscles, tendons, immature bones and growth plates.
As Alan Stein stated several years ago, the goal should be to, ‘‘produce stronger, more coordinated and more confident players.” (Stein is a speaker, basketball strength and conditioning coach, consultant and author.)
What is Strength Training?
Strength training uses many different techniques in a coordinated program such as dynamic warm-ups and flexibility exercises, movement preparation and efficiency techniques, footwork, agility drills, body weight exercises, low resistance (i.e. resistance bands), and repetition to build strength and conditioning.
Done properly, strength training offers many benefits to young athletes. In fact, strength training might put your child on a lifetime path to better health and fitness.
When done properly, strength training can:
- Increase your child’s muscle strength and endurance
- Help protect young athletes from sports related injuries
- Improve performance
- Begin the development of proper techniques of body movement and efficiency
- Begin to improve a child’s self-esteem and confidence
When and How to Start
Each child is different, and one must respect that difference. Everyone develops differently whether it be emotionally, cognitively or physically. A child must be mature enough to take instruction and follow directions. They have to be able to learn and practice proper technique.
Children as young as 7 or 8 years old may participate in strength training activities. Exercises should be fun and include activities for the total body, using body weight as resistance. Some examples are jumping jacks, pull-ups, push-ups, sit-ups, squats and lunges. Encourage simple games that involve swimming, running, running with starts, stops, relays, jumping, skipping and throwing to name just a few.
At age 9 or 10, most children may be physically ready to begin training with light external resistance. Keep the exercises simple and monitor how the child tolerates the stresses of training. Use resistance bands or very light weights.
Children should not begin any type of weight training before puberty. It would put too much strain on young muscles, tendons and growth plates. By 13, your child’s nervous system and muscles should be developed enough to start getting into the weight room, but remember, not every child is the same. Do not force a young athlete to lift weights, and do not let any child incorporate ‘power lifting’ into a program.
At age 14 or 15, add sport specific exercises and increase the volume of training.
By age 16, most athletes are ready for entry-level adult programs, but only if they have gained a basic level of training experience. Start with higher volume and lower intensity work then gradually build to lower volume and higher intensity work. No matter what, weight training should emphasis proper technique and establishing an overall fitness base.
A youth program needs to be SAFE, including proper supervision, allowing for proper WARM UP and COOL DOWN, it must emphasis TECHNIQUE with light resistance not heavy weight, allow for REST and, most of all, be FUN. We are trying to establish fundamentals and lifelong habits.
What Resources are Available for Coaches and Parents?
- National Strength and Conditioning Association (an organization that certifies Strength and Conditioning Specialists
- American College of Sports Medicine
- National Athletic Trainers Association
- National Basketball Strength and Conditioning Association