How to remove barriers to youth training and build lifelong athletes

If the fitness industry expects to keep growing, trainers need to start breaking down barriers to performance coaching for youth athletes.

That’s the position Amanda Radochonski has taken since she started managing the Exos Sports Performance vertical, and she says her performance team continues to lead the charge for the benefit of Exos members and the future of the fitness industry.

“Youth and high school athletes have to become a focus for this industry,” Radochonski said. “Kids need performance education that helps them grow and develop in a healthy way. We’ve got to emphasize performance nutrition, a winning mindset, and healthy habits for life.”

Building performance program awareness and education

Overall wellness drives community awareness outreach for the team at Children’s Health Andrews Institute Sports Performance powered by Exos. The Plano, TX, Exos-managed location is home to a staff of four performance specialists and one performance dietitian. Senior General Manager Josh Adams says his team’s grassroots efforts include awareness of the program’s offering for all ages and performance levels, as well as awareness of performance training as an essential foundation for a healthy lifestyle.

“The industry of youth sports has long been heading down the path of early sport specialization and a ‘more, more, more’ mentality when it comes to sport skill acquisition. The reality is that athletes need general physical training, quality nutrition habits, and a focus on sleep and recovery just as much, if not more, in order to stay healthy and ensure the best chance of long-term success,” Adams explained. “Youth and high school performance training should be geared toward establishing a foundation of quality movement and general fitness, while reinforcing a healthy relationship with physical activity.”

It’s an effort that pays off when youth athletes continue their training and multi-sport focus through the Children’s high school, college, and adult coaching programs.

“Burnout, for numerous reasons, is increasingly common amongst younger athletes, so we try to do our part in educating athletes and parents on strategies to avoid burnout, both with their respective sport(s) and training,” Adams said. “We always try to layer in a bit of fun within each of our sessions so they don’t feel as though they are partaking in repetitive and monotonous training, which also aids in retention and excitement about staying active.”

Retention, he said, is crucial to building the fitness industry’s next generation of adult participants.

Balance and diversification prevent injury, build lifelong athletes

Adams mentioned that one big challenge for coaches – and athletes –  is the current trend of youth sports specialization.

A 2020 Orthopaedic Journal of Sports Medicine study found that young athletes who specialize in one sport year-round are more likely to suffer overuse injuries than multi-sport athletes. The prevalence of injuries identified as resulting from overuse due to specialization was higher among athletes who specialized before the age of 12, especially young girls. At the study’s conclusion, 41 percent of all injuries in the responding group were classified as overuse injuries.

Diversification is one lesson Adams and his team incorporate at every age level in the Children’s performance training program. He said the result of encouraging kids to play different sports instead of specializing in one sport builds athletes for life and helps prevent injury.

“When we encourage young athletes to play multiple sports and partake in age-appropriate training with qualified professionals, we allow athletes to figure out what sports and activities they truly enjoy, while also creating a strong foundation of movement quality, strength, speed, and stamina,” he said. “A natural progression of sports interest and general physical development will drastically decrease the likelihood of burnout and injury, while also ensuring that physical activity is a part of their forever lifestyle.”

Radochonski agreed, adding that balance, sports diversity, and education help developing athletes expect more from themselves while also protecting against sports-specific overuse injuries.

“Performance training teaches these young people healthy habits that keep them active for life,” Radochonski explained. “So many adults are trying to re-learn healthy habits or learn them for the first time, and that’s incredibly difficult. Teaching self-discipline and wellness from a young age is essential if we want to grow healthy people.”

The natural progression of performance training

How young are Exos Sports Performance clients? Radochonski said the earliest children should begin training is 7, and at that age, performance specialists like those at Children’s know that they won’t focus on skill development the same way they do with junior high or high school athletes.

“The lifecycle of an individual starts as young as 7 years old in a play-minded approach, which then ultimately leads to body weight exercises and movements, specific activites and exercises to build strength,” Radochonski explained. “We add a nutrition element early so these kids understand how to fuel their bodies in a healthy way. By high school, our coaches incorporate true strength and conditioning and agility work. Our collegiate athlete education includes a full-blown understanding of nutritional supplements and the demands of being a collegiate athlete.”

“You’re looking at 10-15 years to build, not just wellness, but also teamwork, leadership, competition, quality of life, and skills learned particpating in things that are physically good for your body. Ultimately, that whole-person education builds a better future. Discipline helps us be better beings.”

Implementing youth performance training

Fitness professionals who want to expand into youth and high school performance training have a responsibility to focus on healthy development that is age-appropriate, Radochonski said. Exos specialists include coach/trainer selection criteria in their parent education programs at every performance location.

“It’s important for parents to understand what kind of individuals they’re trusting their kids with,” she said. “The industry is unregulated. Credentials and experience are important. We educate parents on the fact that true professionals put health and wellness first.”

Sharing that philosophy of wellness education requires an extensive community outreach effort. It’s a prime directive for Adams and his team. They work diligently on building awareness of program offerings for all ages, also educating and encouraging parents and young athletes to focus on lifelong health and injury prevention through scientifically proven training methods.

It’s a model that builds relationships and trust because of the team’s authenticity and willingness to give back.

“My greatest advice to those that are looking to implement youth and high school training is that you have to start with education and community,” Adams said. “The biggest differentiator will always be the relationships that you develop with organizations and individuals and how you support the athletes when you have an opportunity to do so.”

At Children’s, that support ranges from attending soccer tournaments to offering free nutrition clinics, and also includes providing yearly sports physicals in schools and leading movement sessions alongside team skill coaches. The Children’s program, like many Exos Sports Performance programs, provides for a level of community investment that shares expertise and opportunities for all children to experience the same training trusted by many professional athletes.

Once introduced to performance training and coaches they can trust, it’s up to kids and parents to use that newfound knowledge to commit to training.

“Your athletes have to crave improvement more than you do,” Radochonski said, adding that the financial investment doesn’t have to be a barrier for committed athletes. “Exos coaches can help parents and kids get creative and find options to remove financial barriers.”

Performance coaching powered by Exos

The Exos approach to building relationships and nurturing athletes of all ages and stages has evolved into a balanced, whole-person approach that has proven effective for more than two decades. Learn more about Exos Management and Consulting services and, if you’re considering expanding or improving existing performance training options for youth and high school athletes, reach out for more information.

As Adams pointed out, it takes a lot more than a facility and a time slot to create a performance coaching program that will contribute positively to building the next generation of fitness industry participants.

“A shiny building and a flashy name are great starting points, but will not be successful without great community impact and awareness,” he said. “Sports and physical activity, when approached the correct way, should create a highly positive experience and, hopefully, a desire to be active and healthy for life!”