Is Weight Training Safe For Youth Soccer Players?


Mick McDermott is currently the Fitness Coach with Al Nasr FC, Dubai. Prior to joining Al Nasr FC, Mick was an Assistant / Fitness Coach with the Iran National Team during their World Cup preparations and also spent 5 seasons with Al Ain FC. Mick, originally from Belfast, N. Ireland, spent 12 years playing and coaching in the US prior to joining Al Ain FC. Mick holds both UEFA and USSF ‘A’ Licenses and is a co-founder of the website.

This is a common question posed by parents of many youth soccer players. Parents have heard nightmare stories of stunted growth, growth plate injuries or are concerned that their son/daughter will become too “bulky.”

The answer to the question is this – YES, lifting weights is safe as long as lifts are performed correctly with appropriate loads and rep ranges. All training should be supervised by a qualified instructor to ensure all safety precautions are met.

Year-round sports participation is at an all time high. Soccer players are competing in the fall, playing indoor all winter and competing again in the spring. During the summer months many players continue to compete in tournaments or attend several camps.

This means that youth soccer players never really have an off-season in which to prepare for the regular season. Players are therefore playing a great number of games without a solid foundation of strength and joint stability. It is no coincidence that sports related injuries are also on the rise.

Weight training for young and older athletes has been proven to stimulate muscle, bone, ligament and tendon growth. Joint and bone compression is essential for proper bone development during adolescent and teenage years. A well-designed weight-training program should address these building blocks that will aid in overall athletic development and future soccer success.

Strength gains can be made regardless of age or gender. Pre-pubescent athletes will not demonstrate a marked increase in muscular size due to a lack of necessary circulating hormones. Strength gains at these ages are as a result of greater nervous system output and coordination. It has been shown that these increases in strength can have a positive effect on performance and reduce the likelihood of injury.

Parents with visions of their young soccer player lifting heavy weights are, of course, wary. Heavy weights are not necessary or recommended for younger or less mature athletes. Simple body-weight exercises such as lunges, pull-ups, push-ups, squats, crunches and back extensions should suffice for many players. Strength gains of as much as 30% have been attributed and are achievable with body-weight exercises alone.

After mastering these body-weight exercises equipment such as medicine balls and rubber tubing can be introduced as a form of resistance. Players as young as 12 or 13 will greatly benefit from some form of weight-training regimen. This weight training can be introduced to players during a practice session by knowledgeable coaches or players could receive instruction at school or from a reputable local gym.

To return to the original question -Is Weight Training Safe For Youth Soccer Players?

My final response is this – The forces placed on a player’s joints, bones etc. during a game far outweigh any forces that can be applied during any form of weight training.

It is far more dangerous for a player to be on the field under-prepared physically than it is to take part in a weight-training regimen. A study carried out by the American College of Sports Medicine estimated that 50% of the 3 million annual sports-related overuse injuries in youth athletes could have been prevented if the athletes were better prepared to play.

“Failing to prepare is preparing to fail”