Basic Exercises to Develop your YOUTH Athletes!

Hey Cornell, 

Hope all is well man. I was wondering if you could suggest a couple of training activities for my 9 yr old. I am looking to develop her quickness, “sprints” as well as overall strength, specifically leg strength for shots on goal. Any suggestions would be greatly appreciated. 

Thanks man


We like to keep training for kids very basic. Kids beginning at around age 9 go through many extreme physical & physiological & hormonal changes. These are THE critical years for growth and development for all people but especially for athletes. Its during these years we want to impress upon these young bodies the importance of not only healthy living & proper nutrition but proper athletic balance & technique. Our bodies from a neurological standpoint absorb so much information constantly during these stages of life. It is here where you set the tone for athletic potential in the years to come.


With this understanding, its important for coaches to have a few things understood to ensure proper development of your athletes:

  • Keep the training as simple as possible. – Complexity in training comes as the body and its various systems get more complex. To jump the gun is to set your athlete up for future failure.
  • More important than the physical development (at this stage) is mental and physiological development. Encourage your athletes, don’t beat them down. Keep training fun and give your athletes a platform with which they develop a “like/love” for coaches, sports and exercising. To damage athletes young is to potentially lose them forever.
  • Don’t do what you see on TV. TV these days provides the WORST example for how to train kids. Everything seems to be of the most grueling intensities, high level complexity and extreme difficulty. This is not necessary for young children. You are going to risk an extremely damaging injury that isn’t necessary. Stick to the basics.Learn to teach in a way that your athletes learn. This is critical. Some athletes need physical ques, some audible and some need to see themselves and learn by doing. However they learn, figure it out and teach them in that self-same way.
  • Keep it FUN. Kids like games, balls, obstacles, challenges and the like. Use whatever methods that keep training fun, interesting and creative. You will get further (with kids) having them do exercises that are equally helpful & fun than helpful & boring. Remember they are developing overall, not just athletically.
  • Don’t neglect  MOBILITY. I’ve seen kids that at 6 yrs old could put one leg behind their head while standing on the other leg. I have seen mobility from kids that was literally hurtful for myself to watch knowing if I did the same thing i’d be in the ER. But, a short 6 years later, that same athlete cannot touch their own toes. What happened? Well its simple. People (mainly coaches and parents) neglect the importance of  the stretching. Keep the stretching as a vital part of the day and your athletes will keep much of it as they age. They will not (in most cases) keep it all…just like we didn’t. But the more you address it the better it will be later in their athletic and personal lives.


Now that we have that covered…..

We dont have a special program that will dramatically improve your kids performance! We dont have special exercises that only we know…We have the same exercises WE did as kids! Thats it. The stuff that has always worked still will. Here is a short list of exercises in no particular order that will assist your athletes in their athletic development:

  • Planking – planking is so critical for athletes. Helps them engage the entire core and teaches athletes how to hold basic athletic positions.
  • Body Weight Squats – teaching and having athletes do this properly will help them utilize the correct muscles in the correct order and prevent movement dysfunction.
  • Jumping  Rope – Athletes who jump rope will perform better than those who cannot! Period. This teaches neuromuscular balance & coordination  while helping athletes improve fast twitch capabilities in the lower body.
  • Box Jumps – These are great because the force of the landing is diminished due to the landing on a box (as opposed to the ground). The important thing to teach is proper landing mechanics as this aspect will be the most important transfer to athletic sports, especially those involving change of directions and sprints.
  • Push-ups/Pull-ups – these are the BEST upper body exercises for kids. For push-ups start with elevation and work them down to the floor push-up with perfect form. For pull-ups, progress them with an assistance tool like bands or manual resistance. Start with low reps and work up. If you dont have a pull-up bar you can use inverted row options. Your athlete will NOT get hurt from these exercises. They will assist in balance and coordination.
  • Full Speed Sprints – its always good to have your young athletes practice full speed sprinting. You can begin trying to address run form (if you know what your talking about) 1st. Doing this will re-write proper motor patterns and ensure sound development. Many parents in coaches should have their athlete see a sports performance coach for proper run development. However, practicing full speed running with good form helps the body develop athleticism and power.
  • Lunges – These are great exercises for the legs. They help you develop great functional leg strength in the same fashion as running and reinforce proper movement.
  • Ladder drills – these are great plyometric tools that, as an alternative to jumping rope, develop foot coordination and neuromuscular control.


There you have our very short list of exercises that will work for almost ANY young athlete. Try these and if you have a few drills of your own you’d like to include that’s fine too! Remember to keep training basic, fun and educational.

As always,if you want KEY 2 Sports to design a SPECIFIC program for you or your athlete, call us at 732-749-3093.

Until then…Get Strong Be Explosive!


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