By Scott Riewald, PhD, CSCS, Noel Gressner, MEd, ATC, CSCSUSA Tennis Sport Science
What Can Physicians Recommend?
Strength training for children and adolescents has been a hotly debated topic over the years and there still is a great deal of misunderstanding and misinformation being circulated among coaches, players and parents on this topic. Common questions that are asked regarding strength training are "Will the player develop big muscles?", "Will athletic performance improve?", "Is strength training safe?", and "Is a growth plate injury or stunted growth a possible side effect of strength training?"
There are many myths surrounding strength training and young children, but more and more, researchers are showing that strength-training can safely and successfully be integrated into an athlete's training plan, even at young ages.
Research conducted over the past 15 to 20 years has provided an abundance of data that supports the health-related benefits that occur in children and adolescents as a result of participation in a well-organized and supervised strength-training program. The data show that a strength-training program can reduce, not increase, sports related injuries in preadolescent and adolescent children. The research also indicates that children can see increases in strength; however, young players do not increase strength by increasing muscle size, but through improved motor control and muscle coordination. As far as growth plate injuries are concerned, the literature communicates that a well-structured strength training program should not have an adverse effect on growth and may actually be an effective stimulus for growth and bone mineralization in children.
Major health organization such as the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM), American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), American Orthopaedic Society for Sports Medicine (AOSSM), and the National Strength and Conditioning Association (NSCA) all support and have developed guidelines for supervised strength training programs. The two most important factors in developing a safe strength training program for any player, young or old, are:
1. Focus on maintaining proper technique AT ALL TIMES.
2. Have all training sessions supervised by a strength and conditioning professional, or a coach who can help teach proper technique and oversee training.
Strength training can offer positive benefits for all tennis players. It is worthwhile to consider including this as part of your training plan.
You can find additional information on youth strength training by reading the following articles or contacting the USTA Sport Science Department at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Benjamin HJ and Glow, KM. Strength training for children and adolescents: What can physicians recommend? The Physician and Sports Medicine, 31(9):19-26.
Highlights of the NSCA Position Statement on Youth Strength Training: http://www.nsca-lift.org/Publications/YouthforWeb.pdf.
Article in Olympic Coach magazine: http://coaching.usolympicteam.com/coaching/kpub.nsf/v/March03-5