Young athletes need strength training now because the spring sports and athletics season is just around the corner. Whether you are trying out for soccer, baseball or track – or you have already made the team and are hoping to have a great season – national YMCA experts recommend that now is the time to enroll in strength training programs at your local YMCA.

Developing increased muscle strength and endurance during the off-season may not only improve your athletic performance, but can also help prevent sports-related injuries once practice and games get underway.

A lot of parents are aware that YMCAs provide a variety of youth sports leagues such as soccer, baseball, t-ball and many others, but they may not know that youth strength and fitness training programs are also available. In fact, these were among the top programs offered by YMCAs. In 2003, 871 YMCAs provided strength training for youth and 913 offered teen fitness and exercise programs.

“Appropriate strength training for youngsters includes adult supervision and instruction and using proper training techniques and appropriate amounts of weight. This form of exercise is an effective way to help young sportsmen and women improve their endurance, coordination and their muscles’ ability to quickly recover from the strain of sports drills and practices,” said Michael Spezzano, health and fitness specialty consultant for YMCA of the USA, the national resource office for America’s 2,575 YMCAs.

YMCA of the USA recommends appropriate strength training for youngsters as young as 7 years old, a position endorsed by both the American Academy of Pediatrics and the National Strength and Conditioning Association.

He offers parents of young athletes these tips to help them ensure that their daughter or son receives the maximum benefits from safe supervised strength training:

  1. Make certain that your child is properly supervised when using free weights and weight machines. Teenagers often think they know best, but this attitude in a weight room can cause serious harm.
  2. Help your youngster take full advantage of his or her commitment to getting fit by preparing and serving healthy meals. Use the USDA Food Guide Pyramid to help prepare meals that feature the recommended servings of the different food groups. To help ensure this is a successful transition, introduce new foods or substitute healthier alternatives like non-fat milk and frozen yogurt treats slowly.
  3. Consult with a certified health and fitness instructor regarding your child’s strength training routine and amount of weights he or she will be using. You know your child’s body and abilities best. A youngster may not share the fact that he or she has weak ankles or knees with a fitness expert they may be trying to impress.

“YMCA strength training and youth fitness instructors work with your child to create a safe routine that helps them achieve their goals in a highly-supervised setting,” said Spezzano. Preadolescents and adolescents should avoid competitive power lifting, weight lifting, body building, and heavy lifts until they reach physical and skeletal maturity.

An alternative to playing on your son or daughter’s school sports team is playing on a YMCA team. Local YMCAs offer a variety of spring youth sports leagues like baseball, soccer, t-ball where children develop the fundamentals as well as learn and model YMCA core values of honesty, caring, respect and responsibility.

“Participating in youth sports is very much parallel to living life well,” said Augie Mendoza, associate director, sports, YMCA of the USA. “You have to learn to play by the rules, cooperate with others, play fair, prepare well and adjust to the win or loss for the next game or competition. YMCA sports programs teach not only the basics of a sport but more importantly the character values that will serve young people well as they prepare to compete in the real world as adults.”

YMCA of the USA is the national resource office for America’s 2,575 YMCAs. Collectively, YMCAs are the country’s largest not-for-profit community service organization and largest provider of child care, serving nineteen million people of all races, faiths, ages and incomes, including nine million children. YMCAs offer a broad range of programs including youth leadership and volunteerism, and financial assistance is available.

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