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Load Management

Updated: May 25, 2021

As parents of a youth athlete, there are several factors and components to managing your child's sporting endeavours effectively, and more importantly, safely. This is what we call ‘Load Management’.

Research shows that it is recommended that children participate in multiple different sports, throughout a calendar year. Specialisation should be delayed until adolescence to ensure your child gets exposed to a breadth of different training environments that develop fundamental skills. Risks that are associated with youth athletes specialising in a sport too early include burnout (losing the love of the sport), injury, and social isolation.[13]

Saying all of this, we need the right balance and structure between loading up our child with many different activities and sports, and specialising in just the one sport. To help with this balancing act, we can break down our child’s activities into 3 components.

  • Free Play

  • Structured Sport or Activity

  • S&C/Performance/Movement coaching sessions

Now technically, we can fit number 3 into number 2, although given the importance of number 3, it needed to be explained separately.

Now you’ve got information about the components, it’s time to work out solutions to help you with managing your child's load.

An example for this equation would be: 

John is 14 years old, and he plays Australian Football for his local club once a week on Sunday (2hrs), whilst training twice a week (1.5hrs each). He also has swim training two mornings a week (1hr each), and attends a group S&C session with a performance coach twice a week (1hr each). Lastly, he plays school sports throughout the year, averaging out to be 3hrs per week.

14 / 2 (game) + 3 (training) + 2 (swimming) + 2 (S&C session) + 3 (school sports) = 1.16

Right now, you’re probably asking me, “what does all this mean”?

If the number is ≥1, that is great and you’re managing your child's workload well. If that number is <1, then you may need to look at your child’s individual circumstances and re-evaluate their schedule. If you find your child is sitting bellow 1, first of all, don’t panic. Assess their schedule and see if you can make little changes here and there.

A few simple strategies that could help are: [15]

  • Look to reduce structured training and replace it with unstructured (play)

  • Prioritising group training sessions over solo PT session

  • Spreading different sports over the course of the year rather than grouping several at the same time

On the contrary, if you find that your child is WAY above 1, he/she may be bored and want to engage in more activities. This is where you might start to look at the introduction of performance/S&C programs to supplement your child's sport. Remember, playing multiple sports is not the answer; it’s about having the right structure and balance.

*Please note, the equation above is just a general rule of thumb. Each youth athlete is an individual with individual characteristics, so please just see this as a broad overview equation.


As a parent, communication is key when managing the juggling act of kids sport. Attention needs to be given to the several different schedules your child might be involved with. Young athletes can be involved in multiple different club sports, as well as school sport commitments and private coaching in a group or solo. Constant communication between your kids, other parents and sport coaches is vital for managing your child's load. [16]

Youth athletes need a break, in order not to break, and this is more important as the athlete matures. With busy days involving school, homework, casual jobs, and social lives, kids and adolescents need downtime from sports. Taking time away is not a sign of weakness – it helps to reload the body and mind.

Injury Prevention

Injuries can be classified into 3 categories:

  • Soft Tissue (muscles/tendons/ligaments)

  • Contact (joints/bones/ligaments)

  • Developmental (growth plate/bone stress/movement dysfunction)

Unfortunately, it is extremely hard to prevent contact type injuries due to the unpredictable and sometimes, hard hitting, nature of team sport.

For this handbook, we will briefly look at soft tissue injuries, then go into greater detail regarding developmental injuries, and how we can look to prevent them.

Soft tissue injuries are the most common injury in sport, and refers to any tissues that connect, support or surround structures and organs of the body. The injuries can range from a low-level sprain/strain to a much more severe rupture/tear, with recovery times anywhere from hours/days to weeks/months depending on the severity.

Education plays a large role when it comes to soft tissue injuries, pain, and soreness. Youth athletes need to be aware of the difference between DOMS (Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness), and pain/injury. It is natural for our bodies to be sore when a new stimulus has been applied to it. For example, a sharp increase in training load, or starting a new exercise in the weights room. DOMS is a natural response from our body as it seeks to adapt to the new training stimulus and build the body back to be stronger for the future training sessions.

A general rule of adaptation is as follows:

Stress (training) + Rest (sleep & recovery) = Growth

Information regarding training load can be read in the previous section, and information regarding recovery practices can be found in the following sections.

Developmental injuries are not uncommon in youth athletes. When an athlete experiences rapid growth during their developmental years they can be subject to these types of injuries. Much of the research points to neuromuscular control (control of limbs through the brain),

coordination and appropriate movement patterns as the main contributors to helping improve the symptoms of conditions such as Osteitis Pubis and Osgood Schlatters to name two. We need to be mindful of our child’s training load when going through growth spurts, as kids are at a heightened risk of suffering these types of injuries and other overuse injuries during these times. Many different factors affect and cause developmental/overuse injuries, although having a well-structured performance/training program in your child’s youth years, can help to minimise and potentially prevent these injuries.[15, 17]

As mentioned above, movement patterns and the quality of these patterns play a huge role in injury prevention in our youth. We need to ensure that youth athletes don’t get caught up chasing numbers in the gym, or not having an understanding of basic running technique. Although gaining size, strength and speed may be necessary for a young athlete's chosen sport, essential factors such as being able to sprint with sound technique, and understanding/demonstrating how to perform a squat perfectly, will set youth athletes up for the long haul. Teaching quality movement patterns should be the cornerstone of all LTAD performance programs. We all need to remember that LTAD is not a sprint, it’s a really long marathon, so stay patient with your child. 

Every child is on their own biological clock. For late maturing children, who are waiting to develop the capacity to gain speed, strength and power, continue to focus on coordination, technical skills and movement patterns/efficiency. Focus on what the child CAN do, rather than what they CAN’T do during stages of their LTAD. [18]

We will cover what we look for in running and lifting technique later in the handbook.

Psychological Wellness

So far there has been a big focus on the physical aspect of LTAD, attention must also be given to the psychological demands that are placed on youth athletes. Boredom, burnout, and other mental health issues can occur in kids. As stated earlier, early specialisation can be a risk factor associated with social isolation, burnout and overuse injuries in youth athletes. Competing too much can not only limit technical and physical performance measures, but also burn a young athlete out physically, mentally, and emotionally. In contrast, not playing enough may lead to boredom, as athletes can lose sight of the reason they train. Success is obviously more motivating to young athletes and also parents, although kids need to learn how to fail/lose. Too often we see parents and coaches place huge importance on results, whether a win or a loss. This can have an unnoticed detrimental effect on our kids, by placing unnecessary pressure on them.

A balance needs to be achieved between competing, training, and leisure, for the growth and development of our children’s physical and psychological development. With the information outlined earlier, we will be better equipped to make those decisions by understanding the whole picture.[15]

We have included a straightforward wellness questionnaire you can use on a day to day basis in the appendix. This questionnaire is designed to lead to further conversations, rather than just a ‘quick fix’.

Active Injury Prevention

Warm ups/downs, static stretching, dynamic stretching, triggering, foam rolling, etc, have all been well publicised regarding their use for injury prevention and recovery (when done correctly). Some are vitally important to not only youth athletes, but all athletes, whereas some can be seen as an added bonus if they fit into a program.

Warm Ups

From an injury prevention standpoint, warm ups are an essential component of a training session (weights, running and/or sport). Warm ups need to raise core temperature, prepare the cardio system, stimulate the nervous system, and screen athlete movement. Addressing each of these areas, will enhance performance and reduce the likelihood of injury in that session. Put simply, athletes need to best prepare their body for the rigours of that training session. For example, a weights session warm up will look quite different to a running session warm up, for good reason! Dynamic stretching, triggering muscles and foam rolling can be included in warm ups and mobility routines, although priority must be given to dynamic whole body movements over single muscle activation/foam rolling. [19, 20]

We will go into more detail on our warm ups a little later on.

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