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Pros, cons of early-age sport training

March 6, 2009 12:00:00 AM PST
We've heard the doom and gloom reports of childhood obesity and sedentary teens. But there are growing numbers of kids under the age of 18 that are training hard to be athletes. Here are the pros and cons of training at an early age.Jordan Pitcher runs track and plays football. "I run the treadmill, and I run on the Keiser and I also do weights too," says Jordan.

"It's all about body strength and conditioning and fitness," says Bridgette Berman, who plays club and high school soccer.

Both teens play team sports not just to get in shape, but to crank up their confidence, too.

In a culture where competition is king, places like Proactive Sports in Westlake Village are focusing on a new breed of super athletes. Some aren't even old enough to drive.

"I started track when I was 6," says Jordan, 14.

"I've been playing since I was 8," says 14-year-old Neil Uskali. "My dad started pushing me into them and I just began to love them."

Welcome to the world of youth athletics. No couch potatoes here. Just ask Nicole Gilbert, who plays club and varsity soccer.

"It's more days a week, two to three hours a day," says Nicole Gilbert. "It's harder work."

On this day, trainer Ryan Capretta is working with football, baseball, soccer, and volleyball players all looking to improve speed, agility and strength. Most kids work out here two days a week in addition to their team practices, so Capretta has to make their time fun yet efficient.

"When you're working with these younger athletes you have to make sure it's exciting," says Capretta.

Increased coordination, flexibility, cardiovascular fitness -- all good for the young and the old. The bigger question: At what age should kids engage in a serious strength-training program?

"Everybody's a little different so we need to see where they're at," says Capretta.

But he cautions no weighted deep squats or putting a bar on their back -- anything that compresses the spine.

"If you load 'em up too heavy, they're going to get hurt," says Capretta.

Contrary to urban legend, lifting weight will not stunt a child's growth, but they do need to be handled with care.

Current guidelines suggest beginning at age 8 or older, with proper supervision.

Capretta uses resistance bands and light weights with higher repetitions along with "Body weight exercises," says Capretta. "They need to be able to do chin-ups and push-ups."

Along with the physical benefits, these teens find the extreme fitness pumps up their mental game as well.

"The hard work helps every day," says Nicole Gilbert. "You're just one up on everyone mentally."

"It gets you ready for the next level," says Jordan Pitcher.


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