Strength training for young rugby players
Parents and coaches are often alarmed if they hear of children strength training. Let us note here that a child has been strength training since he or she was born and so strength training is not a new activity for the child. Infants and children will learn how to produce and control forces as they grow and develop which is essentially strength training. Strength training for children once it occurs in a safe and supervised environment can be very productive (Lloyd and Oliver, 2012). There is no minimum age for when a child should start strength training providing the appropriate training methods and training supervision are stressed (Joyce and Lewindon, 2014). Performance enhancement and injury prevention are the two key reasons for including strength training within a child’s training programme (Joyce and Lewindon, 2014). One of the main barriers to child strength training was the perception that it would cause injury when in fact research has shown that a well-designed and well-coached strength training programme can reduce the risk of injury. While strength training can be introduced at a very early training age, the format of strength training is the key. Children enjoy playing and when games and fun activities are designed appropriately the coach can expect to see strength gains in children mainly through involvement in these activities. In addition, children love to play with various items or exercise and sport related equipment. For example, Swiss Balls are fun to use and can be incorporated into a stability and mobility based circuit. Such activities which can help develop strength are enjoyable, beneficial, and safe once a qualified coach supervises them.
Appropriate strength related exercises for children can include any body weight exercises where the child learns to handle his or her body weight during a range of both static and dynamic activities. Weights and dumbbells can also be incorporated into strength training for the child providing the child is ready to progress their strength training and can maintain good technique with the added resistance. Strength gains in children will occur through motor learning, improvements in motor coordination and through more efficient movement. It is not uncommon to see improvements in strength without any noticeable changes to body composition (Joyce and Lewindon, 2014). Strength is one key factor for rugby performance. Stronger players can run faster, jump higher and are more able to resist/apply the high contact forces common in the game. If the coach can begin to develop strength and the movement patterns associated with the key strength training exercises early in childhood, this will prove very advantageous as the child matures and develops. Childhood is a great time to learn movements and techniques as this movement learning only becomes harder with age. If coaches appropriately and careful develop strength in their child players, these children will have an appropriate foundation in perhaps the most important physical capacity for sports and rugby performance.