If you are the parent of a 12-year-old, should your child enroll in Learn to Train (ages 10-12) or Train to Train (ages 12-15)? The intentional overlap between our training groups is a reminder of a crucial point: these age ranges are meant as guidelines, not restrictions.

The guidelines are a good place to start, but coaching your child through a session is the best way to determine what group is best for you. Finding the appropriate training group is critical to maximizing the improvement and enjoyment for your child. Let’s dive deeper into these two objectives.


Maximizing Improvement


Young athletes develop at different rates physically, mentally, and emotionally. An individual’s chronological age (the number of years they have been alive) is not always congruent with his or her biological age (a person’s development based on markers of height, bone growth, pubertal status, etc.). This is especially apparent in adolescence as youth hit their growth spurts. Biological age can differ by as much as two years from chronological age. A tennis match between two chronologically 14-year-old athletes could actually be more like a 16-year-old playing at 12-year-old biologically. These early and late developers will benefit from exposure to different training stimuli, and they are best suited for different training groups.

How do we determine biological age? Not only can we track your child’s growth to pinpoint where they are in relation to the adolescent growth spurt, but we can also make our best conclusions simply by watching them train. If your child is on the border between groups, it is always better to start with the lower age group and move up if deemed appropriate. Finding the right group for your child biologically is a great way to maximize his or her improvement.


Maximizing Enjoyment


Some parents of late developers are keen on their child training in an older age group in the hopes that biologically more mature athletes will provide a bigger challenge. This strategy, however, can result in skipping stages of development and inhibit long-term progress. It would be like jumping straight to calculus when you have not mastered algebra. While calculus would certainly be challenging, you will not get much out of this course if you do not follow the appropriate progression.

Athletes who are not in the appropriate group, whether it be too challenging or too easy, are unlikely to enjoy the training experience. Therefore, we always strive for finding the best fit for the individual. We have had 11-year-olds love training with our FUNdamentals group accompanied by a pack of 7- to 9-year-olds, and we have seen 14-year-olds work in the Train to Compete group and move better than the high school seniors. In both of these cases, prioritizing enjoyment for the athlete resulted in better training outcomes than remaining confined to the age guidelines.

Let’s revisit the question that started this post. What is the appropriate group for that 12-year-old? Ultimately, it depends on whether or not the child has begun the adolescent growth spurt, and how he or she looks and feels in a training session. By starting with the age range guidelines and then using observation to complete an athlete’s profile, we can determine the best group that will allow you to not only improve but also enjoy getting better.