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How to Determine How Much Performance Fitness Is Required for a Student Athlete

How much performance fitness does a student athlete actually need? Nowadays, we see athletes as young as 8 and 9 years old participating in bootcamp-like training. Is this necessary? Is this safe?

Before talking about how much performance fitness a student athlete needs, I think it is prudent to think of what elements actually constitute great athletic performances.

Great athletic performances are achieved if we have superior biomotor abilities -- strength, speed, endurance, flexibility and coordination -- both as individuals and as a team. Talent nurtured over time, with proper training, conditioning, rest and nutrition, paves the way to good stamina, motivation, mental toughness, team spirit and outstanding performances.

Although talent is largely dependent on genetics and lineage, it cannot be developed beyond a point without good coaching in conjunction with a responsible fitness trainer. Good coaches help train and condition student athletes by choosing a performance trainer who agrees with their athletic philosophy, along with the best equipment and facilities, and encourage well-balanced diets. Similarly, they mentor and motivate young athletes to be tough and good team players.

Coaches and trainers also decide on a fitness strategy according to the athletes' ability and fitness levels. The extent to which athletes should be trained also depends upon their past performance. Coaches usually have many ways to test if the players are ready to take the field. For example, if they need to determine readiness for baseball or fastpitch players, they might test arm health, throwing distance and pitching speed, as well as running ability.

Both baseball and fastpitch players need strength, agility and speed. Usually, the off-season fitness training for baseball is used to develop strength, whereas speed and agility training is done during the season. Baseball fitness training can vary from exercises to strengthen and increase flexibility in stabilizing muscles, to running form and agility drills to improve lateral movements and speed.

In particular, I feel heavy workouts with lots of weight lifting are not necessary for student athletes. Looks are important to many young athletes, they want to look "shredded" and toned, but there are other, safer, training methods for young athletes which will achieve the same goal. Swing sports players, such as baseball and fastpitch players, need to be only lean and strong, not bulky.

I also recommend a dynamic warm-up to prepare the body for the game and minimize the risk of injury and static stretching to cool down afterward. Whatever the sport, it is important to rest in between or stop training altogether if the quality of the players' movements or their power is affected.

Nowadays, some coaches, and trainers too, treat young athletes like military recruits, athletes ignore injuries, and parents condone unhealthy competition, which can result in burnout and injuries. Many experts say that sports and recreation-related injuries are more common than injuries from traffic accidents.

While there is no standard for how much fitness is optimal for a student athlete, each athlete should be evaluated as an individual, a fitness program will succeed in eliciting and improving good performance only if it addresses the player's fitness level, prior injuries and role in the game.

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