What do you hope to achieve with a strength training program? What are your goals? What sport are you preparing for? A tennis player should have a different program than a football player. Conversely within a sport like football a quarterback should have a different program than a lineman. What kind of resistance do you have to overcome? Is added muscle mass needed for armor and protection? Or do you just need to overcome bodyweight and gravity? These are all important considerations. One program is not suitable for all sports and all athletes. A sound strength training program should be based on principles. How the principles are applied gives detail to specific programs. It is important to understand how programs differ based on the objectives. It is possible for the exercises to potentially be the same, but manipulation of sets/reps and rest and load can significantly change the training effect.
As a step toward designing the optimum program ask the following questions:
What are strength requirements of the sport?
What muscle groups are used in the sport?
What are the movement requirements?
What is direction of the application of force?
What is the range of movement?
What are the common injuries in the sport?
Once you have answered those questions then consider the qualities of the individual athlete. Carefully consider growth and development factors. Has the athlete gone through puberty? Biological and chronological age are often quite different. Is the athlete an early or a late developer? Cognitive and emotional development should also be considered, as they are quite important in the ability to learn exercises and routines as well as accept coaching. Also consider genetic endowment that does not demand a DNA test, just look at the rest of the family. This will help the athlete be realistic in their goals.
There is no doubt that the pre-pubescent athlete can weight train. Research and practical experience has shown no ill effects from weight training, however my bias is to avoid any heavy loading of the spine until after puberty. To avoid this I limit the amount of overhead work that the young athlete does and put the emphasis on body weight exercises. This will serve as excellent preparation to safely more forward on the strength continuum after puberty. It is important not to lose sight of the big picture. There must be some thought and consideration given to the athletic lifespan progression. As the athlete matures and increases in training age the amount of work done with external load will gradually increase.
Gender is an important consideration in the timing of beginning a strength training program. Despite certain societal myths that still prevail strength training may be more important for the female athlete than the male. The female athlete has a lesser percentage of their total body mass as muscle. The female matures earlier than the male athlete therefore it is important to begin strength training earlier. It is imperative that the female athletes begin strength training earlier and continue strength training throughout the training year and the career. It has been my observation (not supported by research) that the female athlete who begins a sound well rounded strength training program before puberty tends to be leaner after puberty.
From a coaching and teaching perspective it is important to take into consideration the ability to manage the program. Can you teach the exercises and supervise them properly to insure safety as well as proper training. Consider the “weight room without walls” concept where strength training is integrated within the confines of the actual practice session in the same venue as the practice. This is accomplished using the natural environment, bodyweight exercises, dumbbells, medicine balls and stretch cord. This may seem like a compromise, but can very effective in sports that do not require external resistance like soccer, tennis and swimming.