The age of your kids would determine the way you would approach a full year training routine. I would say for ages 12 and younger the off-season should be used to also try other sports and activities beyond their primary sport.
During those times, the importance of developing physical literacy should be of the foremost importance for those athletes.
If your athlete is at a more competitive level and now making, or wishes to make, high-end club teams, this is where off-season sport specific training should be more focused. I still recommend multisport for these athletes as well. At the end of the day, we should be mindful of sport burnout as we want our kids to continue to enjoy the sports they play.
This article will take a broader view of the three most common “phases” that a single-sport athlete’s training might look like throughout the year (in-season, competition, and off-season). Since we’re being sports agnostic, focus on the concepts and tailor the timing to suit your athlete’s sport and needs.
The Purpose of a “Bigger Picture” View of Training
Each program would be different due to the sport they participate in, as each sport has their own movement/skill requirements. For example, increasing too much size and bulk would be detrimental to a track and field athlete while focusing on endurance exercises for a football player could reduce their mass and size which they need to be effective in that sport.
Trainers should keep a program fluid – depending on how the athlete is dealing with stress (in sport and in social life) which can impact the benefits of training.
The goal of a year-round view on training is to ensure that a young athlete is always in reasonable condition, even in the offseason, and to focus on minimizing injuries and reducing recovery times.
Plus, it can be a lot of fun, too.
Periodization refers to how we set up the year into different cycles. These cycles have different styles of training from one another. In this case we will create an Off-Season, In-Season, Competition cycle. Within these cycles we follow phases that will be discussed in more detail.
It is important to look at your kids’ sport and find out when they are in season and out of season, and if they have a mid-season break. It is also important to know if early games in the season are as important as the late games in the season for their ability to place/compete in the finals.
Off-Season Training & Conditioning Work
This is the time to be putting in the major work to get bigger/faster/stronger. This will usually be the most taxing portion of a year long training program as the athlete’s job at this point is to increase their speed and strength.
In the off-season there are 4 phases of development: Foundational Strength, Transmutation Phase, Transition to Power, and Maintenance. These phases will be rotated in and out according to the athletes needs.
Foundational Strength (Also Known as the Anatomical Adaptation Phase)
At the start of the off-season, we spend time re-introducing proper movement patterns and correct form and technique for as long as it takes to make sure everyone can get rid of the bad habits that they might have acquired since last year. This is important because these movement patterns are going to be built on later by adding weight and stress, we want the fundamentals instilled.
This is essentially “prehabilitation” in which we wish to prevent the need of “rehabilitation” due to injury. This phase focuses on higher volume training with low to medium intensity. More reps = more practice.
During Foundational Strength training we also re-introduce some endurance training. Usually, athletes will be coming off something called the Transitional Period (which will be described later) and we need to make sure the athletes will have the aerobic capacity to complete a workout. This is usually done through circuit training.
A lot of these exercises consist of full body movement with core stabilization and incorporated balance training.
Example Exercises for the Foundational Strength Phase
These “simple” full-body exercises focus on form, flexibility, and explosiveness. Build your way up to being explosive while increasing reps and modulating pacing as needed.
A classic core exercise that also engages hip flexors, glutes, and the upper body, dead bugs improve overall core stability and are an excellent warm-up exercise.
This consists of either Hypertrophy Development, or Strength Development.
The goal of this phase would be increasing muscle size. This is not as important for a lot of summer sports, but for sports like Football where having an increase in size and mass will help you on the field. This phase is mostly about moderate to high volume exercises with moderate weights.
This is more like the classic “bodybuilding” work out structure that most people are familiar with.
This is where the athletes will start working towards developing more strength through increasing the load during activity. In this phase the exercises will be done within a moderate volume with medium to high intensity. As the intensity goes up – the volume should come down.
The goal of this phase is to increase the overall strength capacity of each activity the athlete is doing – pick heavy things up, put heavy things down (e.g., farmers carry, weighted squats/lunges).
Example Exercises for the Transmutation Phase
Easy to learn, difficult to master, and one of the most significant exercises you can do, squats improve flexibility, explosiveness, strength, and power. Nix the weights and focus on body weight squats for reps, introducing variety with timing, pauses, and other variations.
Shoulder Press Using Bands
Resistance bands are an excellent training tool and can be incorporated into a variety of exercises where you might normally think of barbells/dumbells. Bands ensure that stabilizing muscle groups engage and are stimulated by sufficient resistance while minimizing the risk of injury.
Transition to Power Phase
This phase is taking the technique, strength, and endurance and pushing it to the limit. In this phase the exercises are exceptionally low volume but maximum intensity. These consist more of plyometric (jumping) and explosive exercises, so the weight will be very low, and this is where we can also start introducing these activities more into sport-related movements and activations.
In this phase we are still doing the same style of exercises as the other phases except just moderate volume and lighter loads. We iterate the exercises and movement patterns to make sure we are not regressing, but we are not also pushing the athletes into injury territory.
This is where it can be important to know if the early games matter for end of season placement.
The first bit of the in-season can continue with normal periodization, but also being aware that a lot of sports clubs will have their own strength and conditioning training sessions that might interfere with your training. This is usually why during the middle to end of the in-season your athlete should be in mostly maintenance mode.
They should be getting 2-4 practices in a week with 1-2 competitive games as well.
Their bodies will need the time to recover, so having lower intensity with moderate volume training sessions will prevent their off-season gains while also reducing their potential injury rate from overtraining. If your team is performing very well and the athletes are at a lower perceived stress level, increases to training can still be done, again why training should remain relatively fluid.
This is the end of the season – the tourney weekends. During these times, your athlete’s workouts should be: stretching, recovering, and keeping their bodies relatively fresh. Increase your warmups to 20-30 minutes, get a good stretch/yoga session in, and then do whatever pre-game rituals you need to do to succeed.
Even doing a very-low intensity moderate volume workout isn’t the worst thing – it keeps the body ready, set, and prepared for competition.
Glute bridges reinforce core strength while also developing glute strength and engagement. Core stability is key in avoiding many types of injuries incurred while on the field.
Mobility is key, and injury avoidance benefits immensely from flexibility and muscloskeletal mobility. In other words, a good stretch helps the body repair and recover.
Transitional Period (Between Training Periods)
This is where the athlete should recover and rest. For 2-4 weeks the athletes should not really be scheduled to do anything related to their sport (unless they really want to).
12 Month Training Program for a Soccer athlete – Chart:
Note that in this program there are a lot more power sessions-built in. This program assumes there are no in-season trainers with the team, and the power phases should still be focused on early in the season and tapering off into more maintenance and foundational strength sessions.