How to Coach and Prepare Teens for Competitive CrossFit

How to Coach and Prepare Teens for Competitive CrossFit


The CrossFit Online Qualifiers for Teen athletes has finally come to close. OPEX HQ Coaches saw tremendous successes with their teen athletes around the world this weekend. We thought we’d sit down with OPEX HQ Coach Robin Lyons to discuss the process that going into coaching and preparing teenagers for competitive CrossFit scenarios.

Developing a younger CrossFit Athlete to a high level first requires the athlete to possess a strong passion for the sport. Desire and perseverance will play one of the greatest roles taking young talent to Games. What a CrossFit athlete needs to understand is the “Long Game” in training and development and that there isn’t any short cuts.

We sat down with OPEX HQ Coach Robin Lyons to learn more about the process of training and preparing a teenager for competitive CrossFit.

Q. What are some of the important pieces that you see for coaching a teen athlete when you’re deciding how to design their program? Or, what the real endgame really is for this athlete?

Robin Lyons: Well, first of all, we start with find the truth, and that is with an assessment. I think a kid who dreams to go big, and who wants to go to the Games at 16 years old, he needs to understand there’s only a year and a half track to that, and only one percent can do that. First of all, is he or she that one percent? He’s going to come through my system, he’s going to be tested for two weeks, and I’m going to have some numbers that dictate that to compare to. Because when I look at the ability, and where they sit first, there’s a max potential in absolute strength, a max potential in capacity that they do have to hit at some point within that 16 to 18 years of age. Whether it’s a back squat at 365, or a power clean and jerk at 305, how close are they to those predictors of performance for me to give them a great answer. If they’re far from that, if it’s somebody who hasn’t touched a weight and they just saw a video from the CrossFit site and they can’t back squat 135 pounds, or even move correctly, obviously it’s an easy discussion. It’s like, “Well, we can have a five year plan.”

Q. Is it productive to tell them that they may not make it?

Robin Lyons: I think it’s absolutely essential. I mean, I don’t know how authentic coaching would be after that. For me, it’s being authentic with that athlete, and being able to be able to deliver a vision that is fulfilling. I think if you try to bring in a bunch of smoke and mirrors, and say, “Oh yeah, I can get you there,” and feed them bullshit, I think at the end of the day you’re going to find within six months to a year, that client’s going to be gone, and unfulfilled.

Q. What are some of the important differences between male and female teenagers in regards to coaching and program design?

Robin Lyons: Well, for females now, we’re talking on a big emotional level, because now we’re looking at body image. Obviously they’re already into puberty faster than males are, so they are able to handle more training, more volume, and more intensity, but at the same time, they’re struggling with the biases of body image. Yeah, it’s cool to have muscles, and it’s cool to look up to their heroes in the female CrossFit world, but the same time, it’s still a battle to have to be a certain lean look. Look at some of the top female athletes who are lean, who look good naked, and they’re trying to do that, but at the age of 15, their hormones are still trying to come together, so they’re not as lean.

I actually have a teen athlete, a female teen athlete, I’m dealing with that currently. She’s like, “Oh, I’m carrying more fat, or doing this,” and she wants to train even more, to think she’s going to get leaner. Now, you’re just struggling more with the emotional grab to that. You’re grabbing athletes who are in it to look good naked, females who just think they’re going to look better, for body image. We’re going to get females who actually just want to be an athlete, and want to destroy things. That’s what I’ve seen on the pole of female CrossFit athletes.

Males develop a bit slower than females in their teen years. However, they are pretty much men at 15, 16 years old. Looking at just puberty itself, and where they sit in that continuum of 12 to 17 years old, where they sit within that for themselves, will also determine what their training looks like, and what their long term plan looks like. Obviously, these kids who are already having big muscles, lots of testosterone, high on their puberty, they’re going to be able to handle more volume and more intensity, and therefore be ahead of the pack. With males, you can see already that the displacement is going to be with where they sit right now in their growth spurts.

Q. What happens if the male teenager has not yet reached puberty?

Robin Lyons: Well, I mean, they don’t have the ammunition to do so, right? I mean, you’re putting a kid who’s hormonally not prepared to take on that type of intensity or volume. I think that’s kind of where the fine line is, is what does that development look like for them. Well, there isn’t anything out there besides what we try to do as coaches here at OPEX, in terms of trying to educate and let people know, this is the steps to take, if you’re still growing in these phases of life.

Hormonally. I’m just looking at their hormone profiles. There’s hormones that are required to do high intensity, big, long pieces of work, and if you’re not in that melting pot of hormones, then it’s going to be a real struggle to develop an athlete quickly in that short time frame they have at that age.

Learn more about training and preparing teenagers for high level CrossFit Competition with our course, Mixed Modal.


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