I’ve worked with a number of athletes from all age groups and levels of play: all the way from youth to elite.
One of the most-asked-questions I get, is whether a youth athlete would fit into one of our OTA training programs…
That’s why I wanted to give you a FULL OVERVIEW of youth performance and go over what age to start football training for youth athletes.
If you want an entire program that plans out youth performance from ages 6-16, check out my Youth Performance Program: where I provide you with actual day-to-day training programs, specifically suited for youth athletes in various age brackets.
This training is based on the particular needs of each age group based on:
- Reactive Ability
STATS ON YOUTH TRAINING
My methodology about the best age to start football training, is based on the “Late Specialization” model.
There’s a common statistic thrown around at the NFL draft every year, boasting that around 95% of the athletes who are drafted were multi-sport athletes in high school!
This indicates that these athletes didn’t even specialize in football training until AFTER high school.
Certain sports like gymnastics and ice skating, require you to specialize early, since the athletes typically peak young.
However, we’re talking about football training for youth athletes…
This is a sport where you can specialize late and go on to perform at a very high level. This is true among other sports such as:
These are all sports which allow you to progress as you build strength over the years.
That’s why I specifically wanted to address the question:
“What age is best to start football training for your child or youth team?”
And you won’t find the right answer, because it’s different for everyone!
You’ll see in just a moment that some athletes begin training as young as 6 years old – but that doesn’t mean they are football training.
If a child began training for football at 6 years old, by the time they arrive to peak age (typically around 18 or beyond), it’s likely for them to burn out.
If you’re concerned about what age is best for your youth athlete to focus on football training, you already asked the wrong question…
Remember, the best football players don’t specialize until AFTER high school when they are no longer youth athletes, but train like grown men.
The right question here, would be:
At what age can you start using training to develop skills, agility, coordination, and strength within a youth athlete?
That’s why I chose to share how I would organize football training for youth by age – taking care to not specialize, typically no earlier than the age of 18.
A few notes I’d like to make on the following guidelines:
- Every athlete will be different at each phase of training. It’s important to focus on form and doing drills properly, no matter what pace that ends up being.
- The majority of your training should be based in skills that replicate natural-sport movement, as if the athlete is on the field or court. Time in the gym is secondary at this point, when learning to move athletically.
- Have fun! While it might be a typical thing for a coach to say, this is especially true while working with youth athletes. Those who have fun, will walk away from their time in sports with fond memories, and form a positive relationship to training.
Age 6-9: FUNDAMENTALS
Between ages 6-9, we’re really just starting to work on the basics: agility, balance, and coordination.
The idea is to continue giving these young athletes new stimulus through a continuing variation of movements, which ask them to continually adapt to a new level of stimulus.
Here’s a few of the fundamentals I like to include with young football athletes:
- Single Leg Work
- Lateral Movement
At this point, you should really only be “training” once a week.
The main focus is on developing coordination and stability. The other 4-5 days that you’d like to have them do some sort of movement, I recommend these athletes go out and recreationally play other sports.
Recreationally is the key.
This forces the athlete to continually adapt and expand their motor skills to grow within a multitude of sports.
Ages 9-12: LEARN TO TRAIN
This is where and athlete really starts to dive into the etiquette, principles, and technique of training.
Think of this as building a foundation.
We can now take the same fundamental patterns that were developed earlier on, and begin to focus specifically on technique.
Between ages 9-12, you might start teaching the athlete actual training movements such as:
- Squat (I like to start out modifying this as a goblet squat)
More technical areas like sprinting, jumping and throwing should all be worked on at a high velocity. However, this doesn’t necessarily mean you’re working on things with the goal of speed.
Within this age range, if you train fast – you’ll get fast.
If you train slow, guess what? A child’s development is based on the speed at which muscle fibers fire, and how the nervous system learns to begin sequencing.
So rather then sending your athlete to jog around the block, focus on more explosive movements like a sprint.
At this stage in the game, the entire focus should be around the sport season and improving skill both on and off the field or court. Anything you do outside of that within a “training atmosphere” should be geared towards just technique work.
Ages 12-16: TRAIN TO TRAIN
Between ages 12-16, an athlete can train to actually train.
At this point, we’re still refraining from any specialization.
Let’s say I have a pitcher that plays travel ball. At this point in their career, it’s not the time to be programming specific training around “throwing harder”.
This is a common mistake I often see when it comes to training youth athletes…
Rather, the focus should be on continuing to grow overall as an athlete and develop qualities like:
You should also continue working to enhance the fundamental movements, like your squat, deadlift, and push/press movements.
However, this is still not the stage at which you should work on any specialized mechanics…
There are always a few elements of form to tweak (especially in areas like sprinting), but if you’re looking for your athlete to have a long and enjoyable career, there will be plenty of time for them to work on those specifics.
For now, let them run.
So we’ve answered the question: “what is age is best to start football training for youth athletes?”
Hopefully as a parent or coach, you now have a better idea of how to start training with even the youngest of athletes at age 6, and progress them to the high school arena – with all the skill they’ll need for college scouts to start calling.
I like to break youth training down like this between ages:
- 6-9: Fundamentals
- 9-12: Learn to Train
- 12-16: Train to Train
While it might be tempting to sign Johnny up for football camp on his 10th birthday…
I believe most team-sport athletes should stay away from specializing before they reach the college level.
After-all, we know the majority of NFL first round draft picks come from multi-sport backgrounds. That’s why I would suggest keeping all training “general” and focused on athletic movement up to college age.
Anytime between the ages of 6-16 is just TOO EARLY to work on specialized strength training in any team sport.
However, if you’re concerned about what age to start football training for your athlete – you’re in the right place.
Above is just the break-down I use for youth athlete training over the course of their growth and development…
My program YOUTH PERFORMANCE takes this even further and provides you with specific programming for your child’s entire youth athletic career!
- Begin working on important fundamentals like balance, agility and coordination early on from ages 6-9.
- Develop foundational movement patterns, quick motor skills, and learn how to lift between ages 9-12
- Advance overall training by learning to build explosiveness, power and general athleticism from 12-16.
This program is flexible enough to work alongside any child’s sport needs or particular development.
The goal is overall to develop a stronger athlete. This program works to get them running, jumping, and throwing at a consistently high velocity.
You’ll be amazed to watch these skills develop over time and see your child grow into the ultimate athlete.