Training The Youth Combat Athlete

When writing programmes for young combat athletes it is even more important to look at programming for the long-term. Planning ‘Long Term Athlete Development’ (LTAD) helps ensure the young fighter is on the path to excellence and not burnout.

The parent should observe the coach and assess as to whether the child is on the same type of specific, highly intense programme as the adult fighters. If this is the case the coach may either not be too sure of how to implement a more youth suitable programme or worst case scenario could be only interested in achieving rapid results for his own ego and/or reputation in his ability to produce young champions.

The second point would also be true for the coach that has kids cut weight, in this scenario the coach has absolutely no respect for the young fighters health or long-term well being.

There are always rare exceptions but generally an adult champion built a firm athletic foundation as a youngster, sampling many sports without being on an intense training programme.

Encouraging young athletes to focus solely on their development in one sport before they are ready both physically and psychologically often leads to problems.

  • Leading to unilateral, narrow development of the function of the muscles.
  • Long term, there can be the development of overuse, overtraining and both acute and chronic injuries.
  • There can also be a negative impact on the mental health of the children involved, stemming from the high stress levels that this type of training creates.
  • If the programme is too stressful, boring and lacking in fun, it can have a negative affect on the motivation of children. Often young athletes will burnout early and quit the sport.

Guidelines For Specialisation


Age to begin practicing the sport Age to start specialisation Age to reach high performance



16-17 22-26
Judo 8-10 15-16


Wrestling 11-13 17-19


(Bompa, T., 2000)

Specialisation should take place once there is a good multilateral foundation. This is best achieved by developing fundamental movement skills from sampling different sports as a youngster.

If specialisation is done later and so improving the chances of injury avoidance and/or burn-out the young athlete will also have more desire to specialise in their chosen sport.

Once it has been decided that it is the correct time for the young combat athlete to specialise then training intensity increases and high-level competition is scheduled.

In sports such as the combat sports where power accounts for a large percentage of the attributes needed, then it has been shown that better results are achieved if technique is practiced at a young age but specialisation doesn’t take place until the athletes are physically able to deal with high intensity training. It is generally agreed that this high intensity training should start towards the end of an adolescents growth spurt.

If structural balance tests are performed and a young athlete is found to have good structural balance then the main issue would be a lack of strength, so in a way this athlete would be much easier to train on a strength and conditioning programme.

When looking at the training of the youth combat athlete it’s important to not only look at chronological age. We must consider age anatomically, biologically and also athletic (training) age.

It has been shown that children who specialise in a sport too early will peak at around 15-16 years old and never quite make the grade as an adult. Some even burnout and quit by the time they are 18 years old.

Biological age is the development of the body’s organs and systems used to influence physiological potential.

While anatomical age can be seen, biological age cannot so a strong-looking tall young athlete may not be superior to a smaller more agile child.

If the youth combat athlete performs resistance training with proper technique and progress is made at a sensible rate and is not too aggressive then injury risk is very low, even to the growth cartilage which is often the concern.

Resistance training for the youth combat athlete should be programmed so that training sessions are shorter than those of adult combat athletes.

30-minute (not including warm-up) sessions, 3 times a week is ideal.

Basic fundamental movement patterns should be learnt:

  • Squat
  • Lunge
  • Push
  • Pull
  • Twist
  • Bend

Along with:

  • Running
  • Jumping
  • Kicking
  • Throwing

These movements should be used to build a solid foundation for athleticism.

Encouraging normal outdoor activities/play such as climbing trees etc. incorporates bodyweight exercises into a youngster’s lifestyle without being regimented.

A good strength and conditioning programme for the aspiring youth combat athlete will help create good posture by placing the joints in a much closer to optimal alignment and will also lead to a massive improvement in coordination, power, speed and endurance, this will also greatly reduce the risk of injury.

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