Why Not Build Energy Systems In Youth Athletes Through Tactical Training?

Franco Gomez change of direction, Energy systems, HIIT, injury prevention, Sports Specific Training, strength & conditioning, Youth Athletes Leave a Comment

Why Not Build Energy Systems In Youth Athletes Through Tactical Training?”

Simple question right? We’ll get to it, let’s make a few fixes on the way though.

Now, please don’t think that I’m picking on a particular sport when I use soccer as an example for this blog, but it is probably one of the highest played sports in youth athletics today. Unfortunately it also has one of the highest injury rates in youth athletics, but that’s mainly due to the dynamic and explosive running nature of the sport.

Also a large consideration is the amount of year round play that is expected of youths these days. The more you play a sport, if you don’t train with purpose for it, you run a higher risk of injuring yourself. This really goes for any sport you’re participating in.

This made me think as a coach for a moment, how can I improve the nature of training for these athletes? How can I create the type of in-season programming that results in better gains for my youth athletes? Better yet, How can I improve and help other trainers in the industry with some misunderstandings?

It’s simple; first, I need to understand the nuances of a sport, and delve into where injuries occur, what part of the season creates these high traffic scenarios. What type of injuries are common from season to season or position to position. I need to reverse engineer these few factors, and make considerations like: a soccer season is not just a season anymore? There’s outdoor, indoor, futsol, there’s tryouts, there’s practice, there’s strength and conditioning work, etc., etc.

These considerations come with their own list of biomechanical issues as well. For example let’s poke the bear and piss a few coaches off, out there that are making these mistakes. I will ask a few questions and see where you sit in the spectrum.

  • Do you run “HIIT training” sessions for your soccer club in-season? 
  • What is the work to rest ratio you run, or is it random for every session?
  • Do you load youths during these “HIIT Training” sessions? If you do, why?

HIIT you say? Ok, get ready to be pissed off at me and be ready to be challenged so that you’ll become better at your craft. But before I do, I will stand in front of the firing line and answer yes to all of these. I made everyone of those mistakes in the infancy of my career, I’m ashamed but I went out of my way to continue my education.  I’ll tell you why a lot of us make these mistakes though, so sit tight.

Most new trainers when starting, their first influences are coaches around them, idols, videos, and anything sexy that can get them paid (yes, money); me included. What most trainers don’t realize is that they never really took the time to understand their higher learning, so without realizing the answers were in the very books they just finished reading in school. They went off looking for answers elsewhere…

So, let’s get back to business and keep picking on Soccer. in speaking to parents in the past, their kids did 1-2 practices a week, one S&C session if it was available and which was mainly made up of HIIT programs, and one game a week. That’s outdoor. Indoor was similar but more like 1-2 sessions of practice, depending on field rentals, which meant 2 S&C sessions/month if they were lucky and only and 1 game/week. I’ll stop there because I won’t bother with futsol, tryouts, soccer camps and tournaments.

Basically, your kids work much harder physically than you do, and you wonder why burnout is so common by the time they’re in their teens!

I’m going to breakdown each of the questions I asked trainers and coaches below and give you the WHY you shouldn’t head in this direction; regardless of parents wanting to see their kids sweat so they know they’re working. Remember, YOU”RE the trainer!

  •  Do you run “HIIT training” sessions for your soccer club in-season? 

The answer should be a resounding NO! The reason is very simple, and I will only use outdoor as the baseline example. In Calgary it runs from May 1st – Oct 31st. And that my friends is a lot of running after a ball!

That includes an average of 1 – 2 team practice sessions/week, and of course your weekly game. Tournaments will be excluded in this blog, as it just keeps compounding my professional opinion.

So let’s breakdown a few factors:

Kids are in school in May to June and then again from September to October so four of the six months the schedule of your sport and training mentioned above is in the schedule on top of the 7 hour school day.

Kids may be resilient but let’s pick on the U13 for second, and let’s consider school work, school sports which I would encourage them to play for a myriad of reasons I won’t get into right now. And of course their extra-curricular club sport of soccer.

If these are important developmental years, taxing their Central Nervous System with 1 – 2 sessions of HIIT will definitely not make them better at their sport. On the contrary, it will most definitely make them worse. Adding of course that if they crash, everything comes down as well not just the coach’s beloved position.

Their school work, their school team sport, and their club sport. When that CNS crashes, look out! Performance dwindles, risk of injuries heightens, immune dysfunction usually occurs, a tell tale sign will usually result in a really bad cold or worse. And let’s not forget school sports and more importantly school work suffers as well.

So please think twice when the soccer mom with a weekend certification undercuts the price of dryland training from a recognized facility and coach, and throws your kids into bootcamp style workouts with a huge HIIT component to these workouts…

Depending on the rate of perceived exertion it takes 48 – 72 hours for your nervous system to recover from HIIT training. So your analysis of the player in front of you should start with what does their week in review look like before you jump on a HIIT training program. How will this program affect them? What is they’re position on the field? How did they score on the initial team testing? Do you understand the sport in front of you and are you qualified to be in front of these kids?!?!

  • What is the work to rest ratio you run, or is it random for every session?

Let’s look at the best case scenario; you have a team of kids that ONLY play the club sport. That takes school practices and games out of the picture, so now you have them twice a week for team practices and one game. If it’s afforded, you also have one strength & conditioning session a week at a desirable location.

Perfect. Let’s answer this question from other trainers that run HIIT. Better yet let’s just summarize the work to rest ratios.

  •  My favourite (i mean this sarcastically), 30 seconds on 30 seconds off, 5 – 10 rounds, RPE – ridiculous!
  • 45 seconds on and 15 seconds off, 5 -10 rounds, RPE – STUPID.
  • 20 seconds on, 40 seconds off, 5 -10 rounds, RPE almost achievable. This a little better but the recovery still stinks.
  • Last but not least, I’ll just say one word; Tabata (ratio = 20:10 for 4 – 8 rounds). RPE extreme – does not belong! Go and find the Tabata studies that show what the results in performance are after 3 – 4 weeks…

These are a few examples of some of the ridiculousness that exists in youth athletics from some very bad coaching. I know, some of you are scratching your heads and thinking that as long as your child is working hard and sweating then this is definitely worth the investment… Right?


Here’s the answer I was looking for, and please pay attention.

What are the demands of the sport alone. Now remember that at the beginning of this particular question I gave you the best case scenario and took away certain external stresses.

The sport of soccer to begin with is a very aerobic and alactic sport. Actually most dynamic sports are; hockey, rugby, lacrosse, etc.

This means that the energy systems that are being tapped into are the ATP-CP as well as the oxidative, and on a few occasions they’ll tap into the glycolytic cycle. So yes, soccer is a sport played throughout all energy systems.

In layman’s terms they run for 90 minutes max (oxidative or aerobic energy system), and within the sport they’ll have many burts of 5 -10 seconds.

And if you don’t believe me, take 2 stop watches or phones and take 3 numbers down for your particular child.

  1. Constant running
  2. Bursts of sprints
  3. Complete stops or walks

I promise you’ll be surprised on how many actual bursts they do in comparison to their constant jogging and stopping.

In that respect, the answer to the question is simple. The team trainer should be focusing on one thing, energy system training in regards to sport specifics.

So the question is do they get a lot of aerobic training in the team practices? Probably not. The practices are based on learning and perfecting fundamentals, technical and tactical work all encompassing the improvement of learned skills.

Therefore the trainer can by all means prescribe long runs for the week, and choose to work solely on Alactic sessions with the team. 5 – 10 seconds of work at maximum output and 1 – 2 minutes of rest for 10 to 20 reps.

Is that all they’d work on? I mean what am I paying for? Asks the inquisitive parent.

I’ll get back to that and you might get an attitude with it…

There’s many ways to improve your child’s energy system performance. Tempo intervals, High resistance intervals, lactic threshold, etc. etc. methods can be a bike, dryland sprint training, start stop training, change of direction training, and ball work added to technical and tactical work.

These are all methods that help the sport, but do they help the injury prevention? Now I’ll say this with an attitude. Your club coach’s job is to teach the sport and stay out of my kitchen, and my job is to keep your kids HEALTHY so you can both stay out of MY kitchen.

With that said, another function would be to teach recovery methods before and after sessions of strength & conditioning whether on the weights as well as on the pitch working on energy systems. Things like mobility drills, flexibility and core stability training. Autonomic Nervous System Training (ANST) through breathing and the use of in training recovery breathing techniques.

Remember that as trainers we don’t just teach weights and how to lift them, we educate and mold young minds to be better in all aspects of their lives.

The last questions is an easy segway to strength training since we just touched on it.

  • Do you load youths during these “HIIT Training” sessions? If you do, why?

Most trainers that load kids during their HIIT sessions need a lobotomy; enough said…

I know that was harsh, but it’s mainly due to the reasoning behind it; we sometimes cater to coaches and parents because they’ll get us paid.

You’ve heard, there’s a time and a place, and this is the perfect time to place this statement.

I’ve seen kettlebells, ropes, sandbags, dumbbells, and a few other pieces of equipment, I may have seen a kitchen sink once but don’t take my word for it. Either way, soccer moms that undercut you guys out there have a van full of goodies to hurt your kids, I mean train your kids with, and a pocket full of stupid work to rest ratios to go with it.

If you want to load these kids then do it in a smart manner with a sport specific maintenance program in a safe gym setting under the watchful eyes of a few good coaches. Kids that have never understood or experienced loading principles should not have their first introduction to weights in a high intensity interval training session!!!

Oh shit, was I screaming?!?!?!

Well then let me repeat it so you can hear me better; ‘Kids that have never understood or experienced loading principles should not have their first introduction to weights in a high intensity interval training session!!!’

the child is already in one of the highest injury ridden sports, and you’ve just compounded the risk of injury because you want to get paid?!

That’s right, I answered the WHY.

Kids doing sexy shit that reminds you of a commercial you watched or a 5 second clip you saw of a montage on television of a pro doing sexy shit is the reason why coaches do this. It will get them paid because the parent doesn’t know any better…

Tudor Bompa has said, the rules to training kids is simple; develop their core, mobility, and flexibility. Within that paradigm, we teach strength, power, speed, and energy systems training, and we do it in a safe manner. We understand age appropriate training, and we progress load in a timely fashion. More importantly we need to know when to pull back and when to progress.

Ok, I’ll admit it. When I started out I thought killing a bootcamp full of moms was the way. Thankfully I was also mentoring under some great trainers online and live, and I dug deeper. I found out that I was already taught many of the principles of training in school, I just wasn’t using them properly.

I went back to my exercise physiology, my biomechanics and I complemented this with my periodizations education that I learned over the years.

I began to understand contrast training better, I knew went to use linear versus conjugate methods for training athletes and the general population alike.

I was to blame for this as well, so I stand in front of you and all other trainers who still make these mistakes, and bare it all. And willing to take my lumps alongside you.

But I’ve changed. I learned, and I kept educating myself through the likes of many great trainers, resources, podcasts, seminars, webinars, etc, etc, etc.

Now, do you want to know the HOW?

The original question was; “Why Not Build Energy Systems In Youth Athletes Through Tactical Training?”

That’s right, why not?

That means sport specific strength training once a week or once every two or three weeks.

Technical and tactical running skills once a week.

Energy systems training once a week; training baseline one week, training Lactic and Alactic the other. By the way, this can also be done in a technical or tactical training scenario. And remember that although there are about 17 players on a team, everyone of them should be considered individually through testing.

Oh, did you miss the class on testing your athletes to find out which subgroup they belong to? Well maybe I’ll save that for another time, but I will say, it can pay dividends in your programming.

This blog is dedicated to trainers and coaches, and parents that care about the influences that surround their children. I know it was a dense blog, but I hope you were able to get something out of it that will help you deliver or even change some of the training programs you already have in place.

Here’s to changing the industry, one trainer at a time.

Stay humble, and stay healthy my friends…

Your Coach, Franco Gomez

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