Rates of Success: The Young Athlete

All athletes have different rates of success. Some genetically pack on muscle and get as strong as bulls very quickly while others take some significant time and effort to accomplish such goals.

The development and movement patterns in a young athlete are crucial for continued success. When an eighth grade football player comes in for a trial workout, I can immediately see that he doesn't have any prior experience other than curling some dumbbells at home. I can see the great potential to coach this athlete and know exactly what I need to do to skyrocket his strength. The total opposite applies for high school seniors who are going to play college football and decide to come train at my facility to prepare. During their trial workout, I can see horrific movement patterns, absolutely no upper body strength, no stability, and minds that believe they can squat 405 pounds. Basically, this has been engraved in them over the past three to four years.


The best part about the two types of athletes is the challenge for you as a coach. If you're a high school coach and run the weight room program, there are many different athletes you'll train. The rate of success for one player could be totally different from the next. This is where you must pay close attention to what the athletes need.

I speak with many high school coaches who have all 20 kids doing barbell squats. Through my experience in running a high school weight room, we never had 20 kids doing barbell squats at one time. We only had 35 players on the team. I can see if you have a squad of 80, but this is hard for me to visualize because you aren't always dealing with superior athletes. Then, I hear that they max out every four weeks. Some of these kids can’t even hold a plank for 20 seconds. Ouch!

Through my experience running large groups when I was coaching high school football, I learned to think fast because I was the only coach in the weight room. I learned to better understand how to group my athletes and organize workouts for those groups that consisted of athletes with different levels of strength, experience, and overall training. I will do my best to explain how I did this, and I hope you can visualize it.

Working in Groups

Here's what I typically do and how I supplement movements for the athletes who need to regress to progress. Like anything else, you need to get the athletes in a groove and understanding how you want the workout to flow.

Let’s say there are six kids in the first workout group. The workout starts with box squats. I divide the group up into smaller groups if not all the athletes are capable of doing box squats. I might have two guys doing box squats, two guys doing trap bar, and two guys doing anything from kettlebell front squats to safety bar squats. You’re probably thinking that this has to be chaotic, but it isn't. Those are just examples of exercise choices that we choose from. My other coach works with the athletes who are progressing to the trap bar.

We have a progression we use that has worked well for our athletes. Once they can master all safety bar and kettlebell movements and build stability, we progress them to the trap bar, the box squat, and then to a free squat. Each athlete is different and some progress faster than others.

The rest of the workout maintains a certain flow. Sometimes all six athletes finish the rest of the workout doing the exact same movements as one another. Then there are times when the athletes can't perform kettlebell rack walking lunges, so we regress them into lunges that aren't as demanding.

Let’s use this scenario with just three movements without reps or sets:

Warm up as a team.

First movement:

  • Box squat (juniors and seniors; could have a few underclassmen as well)
  • Trap bar (sophomores and juniors; could have upper classmen as well)
  • Kettlebell goblet squats/body weight squats (eighth and ninth graders; any grade if necessary)




Second movement:

  • Kettlebell rack walking lunge (juniors and seniors; could have a few underclassmen as well)
  • Dumbbell/weighted vest or body weight walking lunges


Breaking the original movement down into a simpler movement will keep the flow and help the younger athletes progress and succeed. Not every athlete will be able to do kettlebell rack lunges. It also builds a competitive environment for the younger athletes.



Third movement:

  • Barbell Romanian deadlift (juniors and seniors; could have a few underclassmen as well)
  • Dumbbell Romanian deadlift/kettlebell swings

Once again, you’re breaking down the movement for the athletes.



Over a span of a few weeks and months, you will see who can progress to a more challenging movement. Visualize your weight room running smoothly. Every athlete understands what he needs to do to get better. That should be your overall goal. Out of twenty athletes training that day in your high school weight room, you might have nine guys performing the box squat, five guys doing safety bar squats, and the remaining six younger athletes doing some body weight squats. The same applies to the lunges and Romanian deadlifts. This will keep your athletes and workout organized. Young athletes need organization and structure when training.

This is a manageable situation and puts each and every athlete in the position to succeed. Earning something is rewarding. Giving makes them greedy.


When I first started, I fell victim to the "bench this, squat that, and deadlift this" chaos. That’s all I knew or didn’t know. Once I started to do what everyone else wasn’t doing, I got many more athletes in the door.

In our coaching facility, I have an athlete who trained with me as a seventh grader. He's a big, strong kid who is going to be an excellent football player. He trained for eight months using strictly kettlebells, sand bags, body weight, and sleds. He wasn’t ready for any barbell or trap bar lifts. I didn’t find it necessary. As much as he wanted to get inside that trap bar, as his coach, I wanted to wait. He's back this year. We built the foundation of strength using other means of training and now he's doing the trap bar. He understands how to position himself, pull the weight, breath, and attack the bar. He's six feet, one inch and weighs 190 pounds. He can pull 275 pounds for five repetitions. I don’t see the need to push him to greater weight. He's only 13 years old. He's able to do two pull-ups right now, which is amazing considering that he couldn't even hold on to the bar last year. I want to focus more on building his relative body strength, which will be beneficial as he continues to train.


My approach has always been do what is best for the athletes, not what they want.