Currently, single-sport, year-round training is a common platform used to develop youth athletes. The utilization of training principles such as periodization (progressive cycling of various aspects of a training program during a specific period) and variation (making small changes in intensity, duration, and volume) have been shown to improve performance while reducing injury risk. There are many different components that should be trained throughout the year. These include aerobic and anaerobic conditioning, muscle endurance, muscle strength, balance, speed, acceleration, deceleration, change of direction, agility, flexibility, and skills. To improve overall physical capacity and performance, while staying healthy, an athlete must know how and when to train these different components within the different seasons of play, such as off-season, pre-season, in-season, and post-season.
The confusion comes when athletes are being asked to train year-round in one sport without differentiation in seasons of play and often no off-season. Year-round sports clubs should give athletes an off-season of 3-4 weeks at least twice a year. If not, then creating one for yourself will prove beneficial in the long run. Utilizing the off-season to your benefit and learning what and how to train will help your body be ready to train during pre-season and compete in-season. Training the right thing at the wrong time does not allow your body to recover and be prepared for an increased training load during pre-season. This often leads to burnout, a plateau in performance, and increased injury risk. A common example of this is speed and agility training during the off-season. For example, if your club team gives you December off to recover and to work on aerobic conditioning and muscle endurance and strength and you choose to spend time on speed and agility or skills training, this is often counterproductive, leading to fatigue and overtraining. Pre-season is a better time to train speed and agility with the intensity of training increasing and the duration of training decreasing. Training the right components within the right season of play or training cycle will help in long-term athletic development and improve athlete performance.
This also includes having variation in training throughout the year. For example, in the off-season, training at a lower intensity for longer durations supports aerobic conditioning. Taking a break from high-intensity training gives your body time to recover. Additionally, there is an overall trend of decreased physical activity outside of team training. The goal is to be physically active for at least one hour per day outside of team training doing something that will increase motor coordination in a different way. For my children, it is riding bikes, hiking, swimming, and river running. If you are allowed the opportunity of having mother nature teach your children the principles of speed and agility, neuromuscular control, and power as they run a river or hike a mountain, I highly recommend it as she is a great teacher. Overall, enjoy doing something physically different that will help athletes along their developmental journey.
For more information on how to apply variation and periodization, enroll in the course Applying Sports Science into your Training.