I've had the opportunity to work with a large number of middle school athletes over the years. Coaches will often say they've "coached hundreds of athletes", when they really mean they've coached the same 50-60 athletes through a large of number of workouts. But when I say I've coached hundreds of middle schoolers over the last five years, it's not exactly an exaggeration. Between having 50+ athletes in a training session at a large volleyball club, to the youth baseball organization with 15 kids per team and four teams deep, and then the 40-50 middle schoolers I worked with who came to the speed school I coached at, I've coached over a 100 middle school athletes.
With this in mind, and I think those who have also coached a large amount of middle school athletes as well will agree, I find it so often people get confused with how simple developing power in middle school athletes is.
It's pretty common to think we need to develop power in middle schoolers in the same way we develop power in high school and college athletes. But the reality is, due to age and puberty, training middle school athletes to be more powerful can be easily done doing three things: jump, sprint, and throw stuff.
When we talk about middle school athletes, we need to understand the age range most typically found in this group. On the younger end, we see a new 11 year old entering into middle school, and sometimes a near 15 year old as they finish 8th grade. This time in an athletes life presents a few peculiarities when it comes to training, which ultimately leads to them being able to gain power adaptations from simply doing jumps, sprints, and throwing things. Here's three I find important:
Most middle schoolers are weak. Doing anything which requires to move their own bodyweight makes them stronger.
Most middle schoolers are at the beginning, middle, or tail end of the first major growth spurt they experienced and are hormonally primed for growth.
Most middle schoolers experience high rates of growth in height and weight, which makes it challenging to continually learn how to move weights around as their body changes.
When we realize these things, we start to see why jumps, sprints, and throwing things can be so effective.
Jumps, and for brevity's sake I'm including hopping in here as well, is a prime example of utilizing the body as its own resistance and forcing athletes to not only get stronger, but more powerful. How? When you jump or hop, you're forcing the body to produce as much force as possible in a short time frame to accelerate the body. The more we jump, the more power we develop because we're creating a greater rate of force development. And we're doing so without having to learn a complex skill like an Olympic Lift. When we incorporate these into training, we can still use standard Power Development set and rep schemes. Personally, I really like a simple 3x5 set and rep scheme with 60-90 seconds rest between sets, or a 5x3 set and rep scheme with 30-45 seconds between sets.
Sprints, both linear and lateral, can work like this as well. Athletes have to produce more force to get their body to move fast. This increases their strength, but also how much power they can produce. When it comes to sprinting, we like to look at set yardages per set and building this yardage over time as overload. For developing peak power outputs (noting weak middle schoolers will reach top speed quickly), I like 15-20 yards per set in a linear or lateral fashion. A 3x3(5yds) with 60 seconds rest works well, and can be built up to 5-6x4(5yds) with 60 seconds rest. If working more on sustained power, even though the distance can be shorter, I like 20-40 yards per set. We usually build up to to the higher yardages by starting with a simple 3x2(10yd) with 60-90 seconds rest, and building up to 4x4(10yds) with ~2minutes rest.
For throws, I like to think medicine balls are not utilized enough. Throwing objects, whether it's sandbags, medicine balls, or whatever (safe) implement you have around can increase the rate of force development like jumps and sprints. But they have the added benefit of being more multi-planar, or least modified to be. Especially for the transverse plane, more commonly seen as rotational training, medicine ball throws and slams can be really beneficial. Just like the jumps and sprints, I like to program sets of 3x5-6 reps with 60-90 seconds rest, or smaller sets like 5x3 with 30-45 seconds rest to get a solid effect.
Now, if you've gotten this far, I'll summarize it all up for you: middle school athletes get stronger and more powerful by doing really simple and basic stuff. When you're weak, everything makes you stronger. And especially when you're growing, less technical means of developing strength and power are a great way to build power output safely and without the time expenditure. The more we can sprinkle in, or even just put a fair amount of effort into, the jumping, sprinting, and throwing exercises we can do in training, the more we'll build a stronger and more powerful future generation of athletes.
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