Speed and Conditioning for the Youth Athlete

TAGS: agility focus, Strength and Conditioning Focus, foundational skills, body control, sport specific skills, linear speed, change direction, spatial awareness, youth athletes, mobility, flexibility, speed, conditioning, strength, Julia Ladewski

Too often today we see parents and coaches that try to force their kids to specialize in one sport before having a basic foundation of athletic skills. There is so much emphasis on sport specific skills that fundamentals are lost in the shuffle. The coaches either lack the knowledge of where to begin training youth athletes, or they just don’t have the time.

This program is designed to provide basic fundamental movement skills for youth athletes. As long as you remember that strength, speed, conditioning, flexibility, mobility, spatial awareness, body control and other foundational skills are the base your athletic pyramid should be built on, you can train your athletes to be successful at a variety of sports.

This is a sample one-week program that touches on various aspects that a young athlete should master over the course of the next few years.

Day 1 — Linear Speed Focus


  • Bodyweight Squats 3x10
  • Jumping Jacks 3x10
  • Cross Jacks 3x10
  • Skip 2x20 yards
  • Shuffle 2x20 yards
  • Backwards Run 2x20 yards
  • Bear Crawl (and other various animal crawls), 6 movements for 10-15 yards each

Technical Work

  • Arm Action, 3-4 sets
  • Knee Drives Against the Wall, 4-5 sets


  • Knee Drives/High Knees with band around waist, 2-3 sets
  • Starts from a two-point stance, running over 4-5 mini hurdles, 3-4 sets


  • Tennis Ball Drop and Sprint
  • Relay Race
  • Red Light, Green Light

MORE: How to Use Fundamental Movements to Develop Youth Athletes

Day 2 — Strength and Conditioning Focus


  • Jump Rope 3-4 sets of 30 seconds
  • Bodyweight Squats 3x10
  • Dynamic Stretches: Hamstring, Quad, Hip Flexor, Glute, Lunge Walks, Calf/Achilles


  • Medicine Ball Drills: Chest Pass, Overhead Pass, Underhand Toss for Height, Backwards Toss, Overhead Slams, Sit-ups, Pushups, Squats


  • Forward Drag
  • Backward Drag
  • Double-Arm Row
  • Hand -Over-Hand Pull


  • Battling Ropes
  • Sled Push
  • Ball Slams
  • High Knees through Ladder
  • Sandbag Carry


 Photo courtesy of Chris Whitacre

Day 3 — Changing Direction/Agility Focus


  • Bodyweight Squats 3x10
  • Jumping Jacks 3x10
  • Cross Jacks 3x10
  • Skip 2x20 yards
  • Shuffle 2x20 yards
  • Backwards Run 2x20 yards
  • Bear Crawl (and other various animal crawls), 6 movements for 10-15 yards each

Technical Work


  • Single-Leg Hops
  • Two-Feet Hops
  • Hopscotch
  • Icky Shuffle
  • In, In, Out, Out
  • Speed Skaters
  • Hockey Stops


Patterned Change of Direction Drills (non-reactive): Shuffle with hockey stop (5 yards), Forward run with hockey stop (5 yards), Shuffle back and forth (10 seconds), then sprint


  • Reactive Direction Change (voice commands and hand gestures)
  • Mirror Drill

RELATED: How To Develop Strength in Untrained Children

Day 4 — Strength and Conditioning Focus

  • Bodyweight Squats 3x10
  • Dynamic Stretches: Hamstring, Quad, Hip flexor, Glute, Lunge walks, Calf/Achilles
  • Various Animal Crawls, 4-6 exercises for 10-15 yards each

Strongman Course

  • Atlas Stones (lift med ball on high plyo box)
  • Farmers Walk (with kettlebells)
  • Tractor Pull (hand over hand pull with sled)
  • Chain Drag (drag a chain walking backwards)
  • Sprint 40 yards

Cool Down

  • Glute Bridges
  • Fire Hydrants
  • Planks

Day 5 — Variety/ Fun Day


  • Jump Rope 3-4 sets of 30 seconds
  • Dynamic Stretches

Recap Linear and Changing Direction Day

Create a variety of games and activities that build on the skills learned throughout the week.

Finish with a game of:

  • Soccer
  • Kickball
  • Dodgeball
  • Cone Dodgeball (knock down opponents cones)
  • Shark in the Water
  • Spud

Notes:  Technical drills like arm action and wall drives are debated as to whether or not they are very effective in improving an athlete’s speed. In my opinion, with what I’ve seen over the years with young athletes ages 7 to 12, is that these simple drills help to give them visual and spatial cues as to what their body should be doing. While the arm may not stay at a specific angle during sprinting, it will get them out of the bad habit they are currently doing of having the arms cross the body or not using their arms at all. The same holds true for the wall drives. While the skill may not be 100% transferrable, it allows us to get the athletes into a good knee drive/ dorsiflexed position repeatedly. We are also strengthening the midsection by having them hold that position. As the athlete gets older, stronger and more specific, then you can begin to utilize different drills.

Julia's Coaching Log 

Evernote Camera Roll 20130310 211341

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