When should kids start training?

I would like to preface this article by noting these are my opinions from my own personal and business experience.

Every spring we get inquiries from parents looking to put their son or daughter into a program. One of our most common questions has been, “how young do we start training kids and does it include weight training”?

This is a complex, but good question. The simple response would be to say we stay away from weights with kids under 15 years old and that would satisfy the majority of parents. There has been a negative connotation to weight training, however so much has been learned over the years that supports weight training for all age groups.

We typically start training kids at 12 years old, but have trained a few 11 year olds. There are programs and facilities that will take younger, but we have chosen 12. This is due to the early days of Bold and the success training athletes like, Mathew Phillips (13), Zach Russell (12), Charlie Wilkie (14), Carter Wilkie (13), Mitch Wilkie (12), Hoon Kim (13), Jarret Timmerman (13) and a handful of others. We spent our first 2 summers working with this age group and felt like we mastered it.

We realized early on that we needed to approach training differently with this age group. These kids could care-less how much I knew about training. They wanted to have fun, shoot the shit with us, and know that we cared about them. And that’s what we did. Without them knowing, there was also a long-term plan in place on how we were going to train them. From day one our approach was to focus on and implement proper form and movement patterns like squatting, single leg, upper body pulling and pushing, core stability, etc. no matter how long it would take.

After a few months of working on hammering down the basics, the next logical step was to get stronger. The problem with that step was that we had promised to a few of the parents that we wouldn’t be using ANY weights with their sons. It was a moral dilemma. Do we do what we know is right for the athlete or keep our word on not using weights. I knew we couldn’t use agility ladders the rest of the summer so we decided to tell the parents and started implementing weights. We started by using weight with the same movements we had just mastered, and the results were really good. All of the kids were getting stronger, which meant they got faster, which meant their confidence grew on the ice. Parents were thrilled, and the kids loved the workouts.

Key takeaways:

#1: progression plan was in place
#2: we waited till the athletes were structurally ready for load
#3: introducing weights gave our athletes the opportunity to get stronger and faster

This is now the same approach we use at Bold today. When a 12-14 year old comes to us, we first put them through our assessment protocol which tells us if they are ready for weights or not. In most cases they aren’t. We then spend 4-6 weeks hammering down the basics. Assuming they progress how they should, by the 2nd month we have them using bands, free weights, and barbells teaching them the basics of weight training. Some methods we use and have given us success are, eccentric and isometric tempo training, medicine ball power training, unilateral strength training, landing mechanics, and playing other sports. All of these combined create a balanced and capable athlete.

This is now the same approach we use at Bold today. When a 12-14 year old comes to us, we first put them through our assessment protocol which tells us if they are ready for weights or not. In most cases they aren’t. We then spend 4-6 weeks hammering down the basics. As they progress we slowly introduce resistance bands, free weights, and barbells. Even with the addition of weights the goal is to teach them the basics of weight training.

Something that we’ve added recently that I really like, is off-ice hockey specific drills (stick-handling, shooting). We can use these drills as skill work, but also as a fun conditioning tool.

The beautiful part of this process is that along the way the athlete is learning life-long lessons. Showing up on time, time management, ability to focus on a task, reward of completing a task, proper technique, importance of fitness, etc.

From our experience 12-14 years old is the absolute perfect age to start training. At that age most kids are starting to mature, they are goal oriented, they haven’t developed bad habits, they are very impressionable (need to be careful with this one) and for the most part, they want to be coached.

On the other end of the spectrum, we will get older athletes (16-20) come to us and in a lot of cases we have to go back to the basics. They have probably developed poor movement patterns, they may have already been exposed to several gyms that teach things differently, and the process to get them to where they should be can be difficult.

The days of trying to max out on the leg press and bench press are hopefully over. We take weight training with youth very serious and always start from the foundational movements. Athletes don’t move on until they become proficient. In some cases a 13 year old will be further ahead developmentally than a 15 year old, and that needs to be taken into account. Not everyone develops at the same time. If we fail to recognize that and clump all athletes into one pile, we aren’t doing our job.

In summary, I believe starting at 12 years is a great basis point. That doesn’t mean starting earlier or later is wrong either. We’ve just had a lot of success at that age. I would always recommend playing multiple sports as long as possible. Being a good athlete will only help!

At the end of the day, the biggest outcome from weight training is, confidence. Confidence allows people to attempt and achieve things they didn’t know they were capable of.

Hope this gives some insight. I would love to hear back from other experiences. Shoot me a note!

Have a great week,