Periodization for Youth Athletes: Get Better, Build Strength…and Buckle Up

Periodization for Youth Athletes: Get Better, Build Strength…and Buckle Up

I thought I had my life planned out at age 18.

Go to college. Start a 401K. Work Mon-Fri. Get married. Have mini queens kids.

It seemed feasible as I began my student-athlete career at Johns Hopkins University, a prestigious school that would allow my cute plan to fall into place.

Easy, right?

Well, let’s say, nothing went as planned.

In fact, I went so off-the-beaten path, just like Frodo’s sidetracked adventure to fight spiders, orcs and goblins.

So instead of go to college, start saving for retirement and have a family, here’s how it really went…

Go to college. Graduate a top university on Dean’s List…jobless.

Decide to leave the country. Live in Brazil. Survive off of maggots and piranha meat in the jungle. Coach kids soccer through language barriers.

Now here I am, years later as a youth performance coach. I reflect back on the richness of life up to this point, and how nothing ever went as planned. There were twists, turns and downright detours.

I repeat: nothing goes as planned.

Alas, I see this all the time when it comes to Periodization for strength and conditioning. As coaches, we periodize so our athletes continue to progress, and so they don’t reach a law of diminishing returns from doing the same movements over and over and over again.

It’s boring. It doesn’t serve them. It makes them stagnate.

Of course, periodization can be such an over-complicated term. With all of the various styles out there, from conjugate, to concurrent, to undulating, to block, to linear, to insert-fancy-word-here method, it can be confusing for some.

Here are a few things people need to know:

– Periodization means progressing athletes over time through volume, load, and adding new stimuli so they become faster and stronger.
– Put simply, don’t do the same stuff.
– But also, it means to buckle up.

Okay, okay, before anyone puts on their seatbelts, hear me out: we can write the baddest, most progressive program that could win a Nobel Piece Prize, or hey, even be it’s own Netflix special, but if we remain married to it at all costs, we’ve lost the art of coaching.

And when we lose the art of coaching and our ability to understand through a holistic lens what our athletes are going through, we can leave them at risk for injury, or not give them enough variety, or worse yet, baby them through a program they don’t improve physical qualities.

This reminds me of a presentation I saw from Utah Royals Head of Performance, Andrew Wiseman. It questioned the current paradigm of Periodization as being only physical, and he brought forth the multitude of other factors that need to be considered when planning out training weeks.

Additionally, he challenged the common one-size-fits-all approach that see you academies pushing today.

Do explosive work mid-week. Activate before game time. Hop in the pool the day after the game. Rinse and repeat.

Should everyone follow the same periodization template? Every team? Every athlete? Every unique human who responds tremendously different to training?

Here is a screenshot from his presentation where you can watch fully HERE.

As seen in the image above, athletes respond to training not just from the barbell on their backs, but also from social media, sleep quality, travel stress, school stress, nutrition and so much more.

Humans, to that end, are too dynamic to be married to a one-size-fits-all approach.

As I learned from my college-to-Brazil adventure, life is rich, vibrant, dynamic and with the bat of and eyelash, anything can happen.

An athlete can be going through a break up. A young female athlete gets her period for the first time. Their coach decides to run full field sprints as punishment. And the list of oscillation goes on and on.

This is where good old-fashioned coaching comes in – the continuous pursuit of solving the physical development puzzle, and the endless push and pull of sprinkling in more, as well as dialing back our approach when it is needed. Too, coaching them through how to take inventory of their lives and understand when their bodies need more or less.

With the chaos that year-round youth sports are, chances are, practice times are always changing, how the coach wakes up that day, how heavy school work is a certain week, and how much quality, uninterrupted sleep an athlete got.

This is why is is paramount, in fact, a non-negotiable to have our players reflect on their nourishment, sleep, recovery, and stress, then we can program from there. Or, if they’re working through their own program, it is a must they hold themselves accountable when it comes to listening to their body.

Can they do this full off-season lower body day? Can they plow through the conditioning? Or did something come up in their schedule they can’t churn it out?

Keep encouraging them to ask these questions, whether they’re working with a coach, or through an autonomous program that they invest in to do on their own.

However, if athletes continue to remain dialed in with the plethora of factors that impact performance, then it’s time to progress and continue to give their bodies a stimulus for adaptation and growth.

Too, I need to hammer home that yes, things come up, but coaches (and athletes) need to know when to push. After all, we aren’t trying to walk on eggshells year-round and bubble-wrapping everyone.

We’re here to get better.

Some ways progressing athletes:

1. Increase reps

Increasing reps improves muscular endurance, as well as muscular hypertrophy. These are for using less load, namely bodyweight for youth, to hone in on form.


2. Add load

Adding load through bands, free weights or barbells is an excellent way to progress in strength and power work.


3. Add chaos

Chaos drills are fantastic for further challenging core stability when things like Planks, Dead Bugs and Bird Dogs get too easy. Plus, these are typically partner drills that are fun, filled with plenty of laughter and smiles.


4. Change stance

Starting a new youth athlete off with a bilateral stance for strength as well as power (jumping and landing work) bodes well for ensuring they adopt the proper motor patterns to control their center of mass and the stability of their trunk.

These are also great for reinforcing to advanced athletes year-round as warm-up.

Progressing stance to single-leg is the next step once athletes can control their bodies on two legs.


5. Change muscle action

Starting with an isometric focus is a great way to ensure athletes “feel” the hardest point of the movement. Single Leg Deadlifts, as an example, are most challenging in the bottom position for proprioception as well as hamstring strength.

Once an athlete nails down the balance and the stability it takes to hold this, adding load is a necessary next step, but challenging the eccentric (lengthening) action of the hamstring bodes well for girls looking to be able to handle high amounts of force from deceleration and pumping the brakes fast on the pitch.


And that’s about it when it comes to progressing athletes. Cue bippity boppity boo from Cinderella.

Of course, I could go even further down the progression rabbit hole when it comes to set and rep schemes, more single leg and chaos and load progressions, but these are an excellent starting point for the youth athlete.

On the micro level, here’s what a typical day looks like:

1. Dynamic Warm Up
2. Mobility and Stability Work
3. Explosive movements
4. Strength
5. Meditation or aka “nap time”
6. Exit the gym doing a cartwheel.

Keep in mind: we are always incorporating both heavy, slow lifting and more rapid, light lifting, but we lean one way depending on where we are in the program.

It’s nothing revolutionary, it’s just simple training that continues to sprinkle in progressions, but also considers the athlete as a human through open communication, as well as them being mindful of how they’re feeling and what they’re capable of that day.

The art of coaching is why we do what we do – to realize we don’t have all the answers, but to acknowledge that athlete development is a continuous puzzle to be solved.

It’s also to give the athlete the tools to take inventory of their lives, and what is impacting their performance.

To get a year-round youth speed, strength and conditioning program that is gradually progressed, GET TOTAL YOUTH SOCCER FITNESS 365. Listen to your body as you work through the workbooks. Take inventory! 

To work with me online in a customized, high level manner and through the holistic lens, BOOK A CALL TO APPLY.

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