It’s common practice these days for athletic trainers to implement strength training for youth sports. Today, you’ll often see weight, speed and agility training programs integrated into football and soccer programs; even for the youngest of athletes.

Over the past decade, there has been a fair amount of studies conducted on the benefits of strength training for young athletes, and the research is clear that it greatly benefits sports performance while not stunting growth or impairing mobility.

But there is a proper way to structure a program. Treating young athletes like miniature adults, for example, is a mistake. Below are tips to ensure your youth training program is as safe as it is effective.

Train Movement Patterns First

Young athletes are still growing physically, as well as mentally, and they often lack the coordination and motor skills to perform movements properly. It’s essential to train proper movement patterns before loading your athlete with any weight. Spend the extra time to teach proper technique and drill that technique more than you would for an adult. Start strength programs with bodyweight exercises first so they can learn the correct movement patterns and develop confidence.

Don’t Rush into Weight Training

Strength training for youth athletes has proven to improve motor skills, performance and confidence, while reducing the chance of injury. But don’t confuse strength training with weight training. Although weights do have their place, it’s best to reserve complex and risker moves like barbell cleans and deadlifts for your older and more experienced athletes.

Once you’re confident your young athletes are ready to handle resistance training, there is a better option at first than barbells or even machines, which can impair proper movement patterns by not properly developing the stabilizing muscles. See the next tip.

Implement Elastic Bands

Band exercises should be the next step for youth athletes after bodyweight training. The correct size band allows your athletes to safely train through a full range of motion with just the right amount of resistance, and it still allows them to move the way their bodies were designed, reinforcing proper movement patterns.

Also, you can train anywhere. No need to drag out dumbbells onto a field. Bands are easy and light, and your athletes will even find them more fun.

Keep it Fun

If you’re already training youth athletes, then you already know how important this factor is. Mix up the drills and add in games whenever possible to keep their interest level high.

Maintaining a focus on fun actually make sessions more productive as athletes work out in a way that doesn’t feel like practice. Also, it allows your athletes to utilize more muscle groups through varying up routines.