10 Random Thoughts on Youth Strength Training

10 Random Thoughts on Youth Strength Training

I’ve been MIA due to a quick business trip to Ireland. I’m also visiting a friend I haven’t seen in 4 years, so there’s been very little blogging and plenty of catching up, storytelling, and Guinness drinking. Such a slacker. 

Today’s guest post comes from my friend and strength coach, Justin Ochoa. He’s written for me a number of times before, so I decided to invite him back for some more thoughts on youth strength training. Enjoy.

10 Random Thoughts on Youth Strength Training

Whenever I get a random though or a ‘good idea’ I like to jot them down for future review. In the moment, it may be the greatest idea ever, but when you get some downtime a few hours later and try to make sense of it, it may actually suck.

I make a lot of notes because my mind I always going crazy. Lately, a lot of these thoughts have been about youth training. Ironically, Erica was looking for a guest post and I had about 2,000 words of sloppily written, random thoughts in my iPhone – so… here we are.

Here are 10 more random thoughts – I spared you guys the ones that turned out to be really stupid – on youth strength & conditioning.

1. Don’t Be Afraid to Re-Educate Parents

This can be tough for young trainers such as myself and Erica, or even younger professionals. When you’re working with a kid, you’re also working with the parents – if not even more so than the kids.

The parents pay. The parents drop off. The parents pick-up. The parents dictate whether or not they see value in your services. But… this does not mean you have to sell-out to keep the parents happy. Nor should you.

It’s your responsibility to educate the parents just as much, or more, as the kids. Keep them in the loop. Let’s be honest, they need to be re-educated in MANY cases.

Little Johnny’s dad, Mr. Smith, played a total of 25 snaps in high school football about two decades ago. He thinks he knows his shit. He doesn’t. You do. Don’t be afraid to put a parent – EXTREMELY RESPECTFULLY – in their place.

You have the education, experience and skill set needed to help a young athlete become a better athlete and person. Please use it 100% to the best of your ability and make sure to confront anything that prevents you from doing so. Even if it’s a parent….

2. Promote Our Industry

You know who makes a REALLY good strength coach? A former athlete who may have lacked skill or natural athleticism but earned opportunities to play with their attitude, IQ, work ethic and leadership.

Most – if not every – kid we work with will fall short of the pros. Many will fall short of college careers. Some may even fall short of a high school career.

These kids obviously love sports and may want to hang around sports for a while. Who knows, maybe even make a career out of it. Let’s show them how awesome it is to come to work every day and work with kids like them.

Let’s brag about how we get to help others every single day. Let’s make this job – because it is – look like the best damn job in the world.

These kids may fall in love with the industry just like we did, and grow up to be a heck of a coach. Let as many kids shadow you as possible. Accept all the interns you can. Promote the industry. Give back to the field that has given us such a fulfilling career.

3. Never Underestimate the Power of Fun

Buy-in from your athletes is vital. Without it, you have no athletes developing in the long-term.

One way to create a buy-in to your culture and program is to make it FUN for the kids. It doesn’t have to be every session. You don’t have to be a pushover either, fun can definitely be earned. But I think it’s completely necessary.

Great ways to involve a fun factor in training is to make things mini competitions either within that session or within the long-term programming. They think it’s about the fun factor, but really you’re sneaking in some game-speed reps that can benefit them a ton.

In addition to competition, stay relevant on what’s happening in your athlete’s generation. When appropriate, train to music they may like. Work in pop culture conservations that may apply. Post them on social media and encourage them to interact with it. These are all very subtle but effective ways to allow your clients to have fun without being soft on them.

4. Do This, Not This, This

I stole this from Mike Boyle – who stole it from John Wooden – it’s called the Do This, Not This, This method. It’s probably not called that but whatever. It works!

When demonstrating or correcting an exercise technique for your athlete(s), use this method.

Show them what to do. Show them what not to do (choose ONE major mistake or the mistake you’re correcting). Then show them again what to do. It’s magic. It works so well because it’s clear, concise and visual.

You can customize it to make it suitable for any situation, age, exercise, etc.

5. The “You’re Not LeBron James” Method

This happens to every single coach that works with kids between 10-18. They will come in and ask you about something they saw [insert famous athlete’s name here] do in their training. They may even show you a video of it.

“Should I be doing this?”

“Why don’t we do stuff like this?”

“Can we try this?”

DO NOT bash the trainer, the method or anything about the question. You don’t want to sit around and talk science with a teenager. And you also don’t want to disrespect your colleagues. Don’t even acknowledge that you agree with the training style they showed you.

Here is what you say to the kid: You’re not [Insert Famous Athlete’s Name Here], are you?

They will say no.

And then you can say, “That’s why we don’t train like him/her. You have your own personal goals. Let’s focus on them.”

And move on.

6. Promote Sleep

One thing I have noticed over the years is that kids have horrendous sleeping habits. They text in bed until the early morning hours. They sleep with a thousand freaking pillows all over the bed. They keep the TV on all night. Most kids, initially, do not care about sleep, quality of sleep or care to improve either.

We need to be promoting sleep to our youth like it’s the coolest thing since sliced bread.

  1. Why is sliced bread soooo cool?
  2. Sleep really is so cool though.

If we can get a kid to get 7-8 hours a night, that would be so beneficial for their life. Screw lifting and sports, we’re talking lifelong health here.

Put the idea in their brain and just steadily chip away at it. It’s not going to be something every kid gravitates to because it’s “not cool” but eventually it will spread and they’ll see the benefits. After that, it’s all uphill from there.

7. Stop Using Seated Exercises

Not just kids, but everyone, sits down way too much. I’m sitting as I type this. It seems kind of counterproductive to go to the gym with intentions of negating our sedentary lifestyle… only to sit on our ass some more.

Kids are in school, sitting, for 8 hours a day. They don’t need to compound that with seated exercises. There are endless amounts of exercise variations. I feel like you can find one with a similar training effect that doesn’t involve sitting.

8. Movement Patterns: My Top 10

In no order, these are my top 10 movements that I think kids should really get familiar with.

  1. Push
  2. Pull
  3. Squat
  4. Hinge
  5. Lunge
  6. Carry
  7. Jump/Land
  8. Rotate
  9. Sprint/Skip
  10. Crawl

I firmly believe in coaching these, and no, this is not an extensive list. But I think it’s a really solid foundation to long term athletic development.

9. Help Your Athlete Find His/Her Limit

I’ve found that one of the major things holding people back from reaching their toughest goals is simple – effort. A lot of people do not know how to… how do I say this… work their ass off. Very few individuals, especially youth, know what their “limit” is when they first come to me.

But guess what. We can find it 😊

I think some kids are flat out scared to work hard and test their limits at first. I mean, think about it. Working hard means you have to show that you care. Caring (about anything), in middle & high school, is not cool. Working hard means you have to fail. Failing is not cool. Being vulnerable? Not cool. Sucking at something? Soooo not cool. What kid wants to be so uncool?

But you know what is also not cool? LOSING.

And if you can’t teach a kid how to go balls to the wall when necessary, you lose as a coach. They lose as an athlete. The team will likely lose games because of it too.

Look, I’m not saying every session is max out day. I’m saying that every athlete needs to know what their limits are and test them from time to time. Get out of that comfort zone and go hunting for adaptation.

10. Support Your Athletes

Every kid loves to look up in the bleachers and see a familiar face. Be that familiar face. ‘Nuff said.


Justin Ochoa is a Personal Trainer, Strength Coach and the Co-Owner of PACE Fitness Academy in Indianapolis, IN.

He enjoys working with a wide variety of clients ranging from professional athletes to first-time gym goers. No matter the goal or experience level, Justin’s coaching philosophy is that everyone is an athlete on their own journey. 

His focus is helping his athletes bring out the absolute best of their mental and physical potential, and then continuing to raise the bar for continued success and results.
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