By Brett Klika
With my job, I have the opportunity to meet many young athletes beginning their journey towards athletic excellence. This usually starts by sitting down in the office and listening to both the athlete and their parents talk about their needs for improvement. The discussion usually ends with the question “So how many times a week do they need to do this, and for how long before they improve?” While this question is completely justified, the answer is not that simple.
At Fitness Quest 10, we now refer to our youth program as “Athletic Development” instead of “Athletic Performance.” Our goal is develop young athletes into injury-free, high performing, mature athletes. This process is not a 6 week, 2x’s per week program. It is a lot softer on the ears and mind to hear “For X amount of hours and money, we can make your athlete X much better.” In the real world, it does not work that way. Our coaches teach athletes the skills of athleticism. Once these skills are perfected and can be done outside of the highly controlled practice environment, they are called “abilities”. Research suggests it takes about 10,000 repetitions of a skill for it to become an ability.
Consider any learned motor skill; talking, riding a bike, walking, tying your shoes, etc. How advanced would those skills be today if when you were learning them, you only practiced them 2 times per week, for one hour, for a couple of weeks? Imagine trying to learn a new language before going to a new country with those practice parameters, would you expect to converse fluently with the locals? What many do not realize is that the learning of athletic skill works much the same way. If you are not born with unmatched ability in a certain component of athleticism, it must be developed as a skill. If a youth is injury prone, uncoordinated, or lacks elite athletic skill, it is as if we are teaching them a new neuromuscular language. This takes frequent, intensive practice, over a great deal of time.
In reality, in order to improve, the number of days per week is every day, and the time frame is for the rest of their life. If we are being realistic, 99% of youngsters will not do an at-home program. Of the 1% who do, 1% of them will do it correctly. Youngsters need constant guidance. The absolute minimum amount of time a developing athlete should be with a professional is 2 times per week. In addition, all skills learned during that time must be practiced every day. Not just at home, but during practice, scrimmages, games, etc. The duration of a training program really is forever. I cannot with any degree of professional integrity give a time frame for athletic improvement. I mean, if I say “8 weeks” does that mean an athlete stops after 8 weeks is up? Can they realistically practice a skill correctly at least 10,000 times in 8 weeks? Most of my college-level-and-above athletes have been with me on-and-off for 5-6 years, some of them up to 8. During that time, they have been developing skills and improving their abilities. These usually come to a peak at about their junior to senior year in college. My most successful athletes adapt what they learn into their entire playing paradigm.
To answer the question, ““So how many times a week do they need to do this, and for how long before they improve?” my official answer is an absolute minimum of twice per week with a professional, assuming that the athlete is mature and physically capable enough to work on skills at home. After a realistic assessment, if the athlete is unable to effectively practice at home, I recommend 3-5 days per week with a professional. In regards to duration, I recommend the longest term commitment possible, even if it means decreasing the days per week to 2 times. The more committed the athlete and their support system (parents, coaches, etc.) is to a program, the less professional supervision is necessary.
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Coach Brett Klika is the Director of Athletic Performance at Todd Durkin’s Fitness Quest 10 in San Diego, CA. He specializes in youth fitness and athletic performance, overseeing a staff of 8 strength coaches developing programs for over 300 youth per week, both athletes and non-athletes. He presents around the world to both trainers and corporations with Todd Durkin Enterprises on a variety of health, wellness, and athletic performance topics. Brett contributes monthly to the award-winning “TD Times” newsletter. If you would like to sign up, you can do so by visiting FitnessQuest10.com, ToddDurkin.com or use the contact form below: [easy-contact]