Sports Conditioning Programs for Young Athletes

It's 3:30 p.m., the treadmills are quiet, the aerobic studio is empty, and your floor trainers are bored. But within a few hours, you know that the club will be jumping with members. It's too bad your club doesn't have an after-school sports conditioning program in place, so that you would have some action in your facility right now, as well as an additional stream of revenue for your business.

Setting up an after-school sports conditioning program in a traditional health club requires more creativity than cash outlay. In fact, it's more a matter of staff development than additional staff. And while your advertising and marketing budget will require an initial investment, your yearly follow-up expenditures will be next to nothing.

Creating the Program

The purpose of any sports conditioning program is to increase sports performance, and offset the possibility of athletic injury. The trainer running the program needs to know which sort of movement and conditioning skills go with what sport and which position. He also needs to be able to obtain and group the various needs of athletic activities into a logical format. Workshops in speed, agility and quickness pertain to certain sports, whereas muscular endurance, increasing size and improving strength pertain to others.

The role of the fitness professional is to offer a more qualitative approach to training than might be available to the student athlete. We aren't trying to replace the coaches, but to offer a more specific, in-depth approach to training.

Finding Mr./Ms. Right

Choosing the right staff member to run your after-school sports conditioning program isn't important, it's key! I've already expressed that your team leader needs to be someone with knowledge in kinesiology and exercise physiology, and a general understanding of sports conditioning. The personality of the staff member is also essential. Leadership, charisma, command, patience and reliability are all essential assets that the program leader must possess.

Crowd Control

If you decide to work with the student athletes in one-on-one or small-group programs (one trainer to four or fewer students), and you run the programs during off-peak hours, you probably won't have to worry about facility usage and how the programs will affect other members. However, if you promote the program well enough, traffic control inside your facility could become an issue.

It has been my experience that aerobic studios offer the ideal space to conduct sport conditioning programs. Lateral motion drills, running and cutting drills, and basic calisthenics are natural here.

There's another benefit to keeping student athletes in your aerobic studio. In a studio setting, you can better control the class, minimizing the noise so the program doesn't disturb other members.

Depending on where you hold the class — an aerobic studio or somewhere else — you may be able to assign assistants to the team leader. In the end, the size of your space will determine the number of participants involved.

Regardless of the area in which you conduct the classes, my advice is to keep the sessions to an hour. Eight-to-12-week seasons will give you enough time to get a conditioned response from the participants, without over-committing them.

Essential Equipment

Time after time, when I have consulted club owners and managers about setting up special mini-membership programs within a facility, they are concerned right away with buying some new line of equipment. They miss the actual beauty of this concept, which is to make due with what you already have in place.

Steps, hand weights, mats, group exercise bikes, body bars, slide platforms, mini-trampolines, jump ropes, physio-balls, balance boards, stretch tubes or Pilates-style equipment all could be used either in some circuit format or group setting without imposing on members.

Past Performance

Always keep in mind what sort of training the student athlete has received. Most trainers understand why you shouldn't do the lat pulldown behind the neck, but your student athlete might say, “But that's the way my coach taught me.”

On the other hand, don't be surprised by the level of skill that some students have. If your trainers are used to working the average adult just on the strength deck, they may have forgotten the wide range of fitness levels kids can have.

Finally, let me remind you that the long-term success of this type of program will hinge on many factors, including safety, effectiveness and fun.

Michael Youssouf, M.A., is the manager of trainer education at the Sports Center at Chelsea Piers in New York. He was the recipient of the 2000 IDEA/Life Fitness Personal Trainer of the Year award, and is known internationally as an author, master trainer and motivational speaker.


Look Before You Leap

Before you jump feetfirst into setting up sports conditioning programs for school-age athletes, ask yourself the following questions and weigh your answers.

  • How far are the nearest junior and senior high schools?
  • What programs are already in place on the school and community level?
  • What will be different about your program compared to what is offered elsewhere?
  • What impact will this program have on your liability insurance?
  • Where will the teenagers be dropped off and picked up?
  • What other safety/security procedures need to be implemented to protect the students and to acknowledge potential liability for the facility?