This topic has been around ever since I can remember. The cautious parent worried that weight training early on will “stunt growth” or “cause injury” to their baby. From the outside looking in, this makes sense because weights are heavy and their child is only a teenager with lots of life ahead of them. But from where I stand as a performance coach seeing champions being crowned as early as 18 years old now, the earlier you start the better.
First of all, nobody wants to force a young kid to lift weights to sacrifice health for winning. Not anyone that I have been around or heard of. Does that exist? Sure. But if you make an argument that lifting weights can hurt your kid, you better start naming 50 other things they did that day that would’ve caused an injury. In fact, research done by MH Stone all the way back in 1990 showed training with weights caused a substantially lower number of injuries caused by sports such as football, gymnastics, or basketball. So if research states that you are far safer weight training than you are playing basketball with friends, why does the negative view still remain?
Research is not just for researchers
My answer to this question is that there is a huge disconnect between parents, coaches, and performance coaches as far as research and science is concerned. Finding a head coach that understands some exercise science is like finding $400 on the ground. Could it happen? Yes. Does it? Very, very rarely. It is because this disconnect between what the caregivers of the athlete that there are so many missed opportunities. A highly skilled baseball player that has great vision, great work effort, but lacks the physical ability to match up with elite athletes could soon be left behind once he leaves the friendly confines of high school. That is why it is so important for parents, coaches, and strength coaches to learn a little bit about each other and get on the same page. There has to be a level of trust that each respective side must have for what the other one does for the athlete. Young athletes will be spending about 40-50% of time with their parents, as opposed to about 20% towards school and 20% towards sports. If you analyze the percentages even further, that 20% spent on sports is realistically more like 15% with the actual sport skill coach and probably 5% with the strength and conditioning coach. So for an athlete like the one mentioned early that has reached his or her peak in the specific sport skill and has so much left to gain physically, it sounds like another story of a player that would’ve got a scholarship or played in college but couldn’t get over the hump. Parents that don’t know where to begin can check out my checklist on what to ask a strength coach before hiring them here.
Facts should trump hearsay
Something that drives me crazy is how unaware people are of their bodies and exercise science. I am constantly in amazement of how much people think they know and how little they actually do. I’m not saying that I blame them, but I’m telling you that once you go through years devoted to learning about the human body it really is like you swallow the red pill and can never go back.
I can never unlearn the fact that running everyday for an hour on the treadmill is terrible for the body. But there are parents and even sport coaches out there who will religiously day after day hit that treadmill for an hour and then reject the strength coach’s idea because lifting weights will hurt someone. We need to all get on the same page.
What you don’t need to know
I think everyone should have some sort of idea of what each respective side can do. But, I’m not saying that the parent working 50 hours a week struggling just to drop their daughter off at practice needs to know how the lymphatic system works. I’m not saying that the high school science teacher that also coaches volleyball needs to know the in’s and out’s of family problems. And I don’t think that the strength and conditioning coach needs to throw batting practice and teach the correct arm slot to a pitcher. Once you try to learn too much of someone else’s job, you start overstepping boundaries and issues can arise. I think I can speak for every party involved in this scenario when I say it’s hard enough to do each job without someone else trying to butt in. This is why my advice to each side is to decide general things you believe and hope for the young athlete and then try to find some overlap that each person use their own specific skills to help with. Starting from a general perspective, I think all of these things are reasonable goals every parent, head coach, and strength coach would want for a young athlete. This diagram below gives a good general idea of what I mean:
After sitting down and discussing these things, maybe you realize that the strength and conditioning coach doesn’t have it at all in mind to hurt your child by training them. Also, maybe you start to learn more about the process that it takes to develop a youth athlete and have a greater chance of success.
In reality, there is so much more going on in a middle school/high school aged teenager and it’s going to be in the parent’s best interest to do some homework. This is such a valuable age to start developing physical qualities to help build a foundation for later. But it starts with the support system that the kid has in their corner. So many things are getting poured into their day that what actually comes out depends on what kind of support system they have.
With boyfriends and girlfriends, popularity and social media, homework and pop quizzes and all other things that go into being a kid these days the quality of what we give them and send them to is up to us. To really dig into finding more out about what the research and science has to say about young athletes lifting, check out Part 2-Research, Science, and what all of it means here. The first step is an open line of communication and an effort to learn a little bit.
Stone MH (1990). Muscle conditioning and muscle injuries. Med Sci Sports Exerc. 22(4):457-462.