Physiological considerations for training children

Children are not small adults. Not taking this into consideration is an error many coaches can make into when designing and implementing training plans for children. It is not good enough just to use the same exercises and drills used for adults and maybe just lower the repetitions, sets or the resistance used to make the session easier. Children are a challenging population to work with primarily due to the many issues surrounding growth, maturation, and development which have been discussed in previous modules. There are several physiological factors, that coaches must be aware of, which can affect the trainability of children’s’ physical capacities.

The nervous system in children is not fully developed at this age (Kenny et al, 2015). The insulation around nerve cells is not fully formed and as such the nerve signals being sent are slower and not as efficient. This insulation only fully develops well after puberty and so for children, their nervous system is not performing optimally at this age (Kenny et al, 2015). Skills and movements can become much more refined and efficient with practice during childhood but the full development of a skill or movement can depend on full maturation of the nervous system (Kenny et al, 2015). This is important for coaches to understand as while the skill or movement will never be fully developed during childhood, the foundation for these skills will be laid down. If the child gets good practice and training in fundamental movement skills and rugby specific skills they will develop a skill base to take advantage of the maturing nervous system and fully develop their skills as they grow.

The growth of limbs also requires careful consideration by coaches when trying to develop skills and movement patterns. Running is a skill that is crucial in the game of rugby. The mechanics of running and the development of this skill in children will be affected by the changes in leg length as the child grows. In general, children will have reached 95% of their adult leg length by the time they are 12 (Joyce and Lewindon, 2014). This rapid growth during childhood will affect coordination and the ability of the child to develop the skill of running. This is a crucial consideration.

The child also has a much less capacity for high intensity efforts when compared to an adult. This is down to the development of the energy systems within the body. Children have lower stores of muscle glycogen (fuel for energy production) and lower concentration of the enzymes used in the chemical reactions that allow the body to produce energy quickly for high intensity efforts (Kenny et al, 2015). Given that high intensity bursts of play are common in rugby, an awareness of this of very important for coaches. This has an effect on training session design as it is important not to over-fatigue the children.