Training of children – general


There is an increasing tendency for young athletes to take part in intensive training programs and challenging competition sport – all putting great demands on the body’s physique. In this connection, it is very important that the trainer (and parents) set up realistic goals and limitations so that the youngster’s natural physical and psychological development is not affected in a negative way.

A child’s ability to train is altered dramatically when reaching puberty, and is predominantly hormone conditional. The child’s natural stages of development must be respected, and it is important to be constantly aware of symptoms from the body that may indicate that the limit of the child’s performance has been overstepped.

It is more important to find the right balance between the load and stress the body is subjected to, in relation to the strength of the body’s structures (muscles, tendons, bones), and all training must be performed within the pain threshold (tenderness, swelling, reduced ability). It is therefore necessary to reduce the intensity of the training if pain is experienced during training, or in the evening or day following the training. It is similarly important that the training is gradually stepped up without large jumps in the intensity of the training, to enable the body to adjust to the new load.

Training of children should be performed in an atmosphere of play, and should primarily consist of exercises to enhance technical skills and coordination. Scientific tests with children have revealed that hard physical training can result in an improvement of the physical capacity, although to a considerably lesser degree than in adults. This applies to training the aerobic as well as anaerobic capacity. Fitness training for children will therefore not achieve a great deal as the capacity to absorb oxygen is not greatly improved. Likewise, there is no gain to be made from intermittent sprint training or anaerobic training, as the enzyme systems that need to be trained are not fully developed. The modest gain in training condition that is achieved will not follow the child up to adulthood. It is therefore pure superstition, that a high level of fitness in adults is founded before or during puberty. If young athletes register better running results, time wise, these can primarily be attributed to a better technique and not due to better oxygen absorption.

Strength training with specialised or large loads should be avoided. Maximising weight training, or indeed trying to push the limits, has no place in a training program before puberty.

Children should as far as possible be matched according to height and weight, and not as is often practised, according to age and sex. There is no difficulty in letting boys and girls train or compete together, until the boys’ muscles make up a larger percent of the body weight than the girls’. A wrong matching of the sexes at this point will present a considerable risk of injury for the girls in contact sports such as football or handball.

Children do not have the same need for warming-up and stretching before and after training as adults, however, it can have a sound educational effect to get the young athletes used to performing these exercises so that it comes completely naturally to them in adulthood where the exercises have great preventive importance.

Generally it must be said that training for children and adolescents should primarily consist of technique and coordination, and should be prepared in a way that is both fun and motivating.


Relative difference in training effect between children and adults Before puberty During puberty After puberty
Fitness + + +++
Anaerobic 0 + ++
Mobility of joints 0 + +++
Strength 0 + +++
Technique +++ ++ +
Coordination +++ ++ +
Warm up + ++ +++
Stretching + ++ +++
Need for fun and play +++ ++ +


(Modified from ”Fotbollsmedicin” 1998 with permission of Jan Ekstrand og Jon Karlsson)