WHENEVER THEY SHOW INTEREST IN IT!
But in all seriousness, it is a great question as there are a lot of misconceptions out there about youth strength training.
Strength training is very beneficial for athletes of all ages – the biggest key is going to be WHAT and HOW MUCH based on the age of the athlete.
Our youngest group of athletes here at NSS are those from 3rd-6th grade. In this group, we are really in movement exploration mode. Here we are trying to teach good positions and mechanics in all the different movements, from running and change of direction to jumping/landing and strength training.
The goal is to teach positions but have some fun along the way in an attempt to show these kids that training can be fun and instill that early.
Now you might be saying that strength training for 3rd graders is unnecessary and can lead to them getting hurt. There are 2 counters to that for you to consider.
1. At that age yes - heavy weight training probably isn’t necessary, but rather position and quality movement are the ultimate goals. Here we set the stage for when the athlete is older and is able to progress in weight and intensity.
2. Consider that when we do any sort of movement our bodies have to withstand a force that is many times our own body weight. When we jog, our legs must absorb the shock that is at least a couple times more than our body weight (sprinting is far more).
When we jump/land or change directions quickly that number goes up WAY more. Kids run, jump, and cut as a part of play every day, so within reason, they can control forces many times their own body weight. That’s not to say we load them up and make them 1 rep max. Rather teaching good squat mechanics with a 10lb dumbbell likely isn’t going to cause huge issues.
When a young athlete shows interest in strength training is the time to get them into it – strike while the iron is hot as they say.
The goal is building a foundation of quality movement and enjoyment so the athlete can keep doing it when they are no longer an athlete, and so there’s no better time to start than when THEY want to.