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Why You Shouldn't Train Children Athletes As Adults

I recently found myself taking my 12-year-old son to the doctor for some persistent athletic injuries. Sadly, I misjudged the seriousness of his complaints, and there’s a chance I could have alleviated some of the pain and aggravation.

By taking a passionate and sometimes stern approach to parenting a talented child athlete, I realize I’m walking a fine line between success and overdoing it. I am a dedicated and loving mom, but one who is very serious about facilitating my above average child’s success in sports. I have to take frequent self-assessments to make sure I am not pushing my son too hard or ignoring important warning signs of injury.

Over the past decade, there have been some horrifying stories of coaches pushing adolescents too hard during practice. Some of these incidents even resulted in death. It’s important for coaches, parents, and student athletes to understand the physiological differences between adults and children when it comes to training. By making safety and teamwork the primary focus, we can prevent our kids from enduring serious injury and fatalities. Below I’ve outlined the five major areas where children differ from adults in training adaptations:

1. Cardiovascular and Respiratory Function in Children v/s Adults

  • Children have smaller heart size than adults

  • Smaller blood volume

  • Smaller stroke volume capacity

  • Lower maximal cardiac output

  • Lower blood pressure

  • Higher HR at same exercise intensity

2. Strength in Children v/s Adults

  • Muscle strength increases in children

  • There is not much change in muscle size in kids, unlike adults

3. Aerobic Capacity in Children v/s Adults

  • Small gains in children

  • Larger gains in adolescents

  • Heart growth/size is a factor

  • VO2 Max is lower in children

  • Running economy is lower in children

  • Children’s performance is inferior in distance running

4. Anaerobic Capacity in Children v/s Adults

  • Lower in children than adults

  • Anaerobic mean & peak power outputs

  • Children rely on greater fat oxidation for fuel during exercise than adults

5. Special Considerations Include Thermal Stress

  • Children rely more on convection and radiation

  • Evaporative heat loss is less than in adults

  • Children have greater ratios of surface area to mass

  • Acclimatization to heat is slower in boys than men

  • Could cause greater risk of injury than adults

When you have a tough athlete who is naturally competitive and slow to complain, it’s often easy to miss cues that would indicate a serious injury. Listen to your child’s complaints, even if they are minor. Don’t trust your own judgment, seek a doctor’s opinion. Consider the demands you are putting on a system which isn’t fully developed. What good will excessive intense, maximal training actually do prior to high school? Prioritize your kid’s safety in order to provide a fun and rewarding experience that extends into adulthood.

Wishing you Health & Happiness,

Honey Baby Naturals

Staff: Holly Lowe Jones

(Note: photos are not intended to imply that the Broadus family has put their son at any risk. I am simply a fan of the young man’s football career. I do not own the rights to these images, which were obtained off the internet.)


1. Physiology of Sport and Exercise, 5th ed., Kenney/Wilmore/Costill.

kids playing soccer

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