Ask the expertYouth strength and conditioning

Ask the Expert: Steve Curnyn (Hibernian FC Academy)

Steve Curnyn is Head of Academy Football Medicine and Science at Hibernian FC Academy. He recently wrote a hugely popular guest post on growth and maturation in youth footballers , as well as how they monitor and adapt day to day training of academy players at Hibernian FC…

1)What has led you into youth sport?
To be honest, it was by chance that I ended up in youth sport. Throughout my time at university I was Personal Trainer, then started working with local football clubs to help with their fitness, then slowly started working with other type of recreational athletes. After I finished my masters degree, I ended up working as a Sports Science Technician at Edinburgh Napier University, whilst still continuing to work with local athletes on the side. My work managed to get me into Hibernian FC, where I was initially asked to provide S&C support to the academy and things evolved from there to heading up the department.
2) What has been your biggest influence in your practice in youth sport?
My biggest influence for working with youths is actually out with research and authors and with my Karate coach when I was younger. I was very fortunate to grow up with an excellent coach called Rab Gillespie and he taught me the disciplines that it takes to be a top competitive athlete and knew exactly how to inspire me to get the best out of me. I feel I use many of his nuggets of wisdom when working with the players, as he showed me how to create the right culture and environment that helps athletes thrive. Creating the right environment will bring results regardless of how good the program is as the players want to be in the gym or out on the pitch working on their drills.
3) What is your particular area of interest?
For me, growth and maturation is my main interest working with youths. It fascinates me how each player is a project and they all start to develop in different ways, creating a challenge of making sure you are targeting the right system at the right time, to maximise their potential. No one player can be treated in the same manner due to growth and maturation factors and trying to put their pieces of the puzzle together is a satisfying problem to work with.
4) How do you think this particular area applies to youth athletes? 
Growth and maturation influences everything in football from strength to sprint speed, which in turn can completely affect their performance on the pitch. Within 1 team you can have biological age variances of up to 3 years, which causes a massive age effect and can cause players to significantly effect the game. I feel it is the sport scientist’s duty to ensure  that all academy players are measured on an even playing field, so that the late developer who won’t influence a game in a positive manner are still given time to develop. You’ve always got to remember that your best player could be a late developer, however if they are not standing out in a game, they could easily be forgotten about or worse – released from the academy.
5) What is the best piece of advice you’ve received?
Always give the little guy a chance. What the research is suggesting is that the late developers that are showing the mental resilience and the work ethic to take the knock backs and being pushed of the ball, could potentially grow to become the best player in your team by the time of u18s. Talent will never be able to beat hard work, so if you have a later developer that shows these traits, you could have a diamond in your academy that could go on to create a fantastic career for themselves.
6) What advice would you give to coaches working with youth athletes? 
Create a fun, learning and challenging environment for your athletes. If you can make the gym an exciting hub that is welcoming for the players and not “something they have to do” the results will come. Athletes are naturally competitive people and love to work together and be pushed, so make fun challenges and create leader boards. Small tricks like this can shape an environment to an exciting place to be. Also teach the athletes why they are in the gym lifting weights or doing plyometrics and the way that each exercise can influence a certain part of their performance on a pitch. Education is key.
7) Can you recommend any particular resources for youth sport coaches?
A great book is Strength and Conditioning for Young Athletes by Rhodri Lloyd and Jon Oliver, Athletic Movement Skills: Training for Sports Performance by Clive Brewer, Conditioning Young Athletes by Bompa and Carrera. Currently I am really enjoying following Jeremy Frisch on Twitter and watching the different environments he creates for training his athletes. Also Strength Lab Superheros by Simon Brundish is a very clever method for developing athletic movement skills in youths.
8) Where can people find out more about you and your work? (Social media links, websites etc.)
You can find me on Twitter @SteveCurnyn or on Instagram @SteveCurnyn.
Thanks to Steve for his time and expertise! For more great content like this, follow us on Facebook!
Are you a grassroots youth sport coach or PE teacher who wants to improve the athleticism of your athletes?? Check out our Fundamental series athletic development programs here.

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