Developing a high level athlete of any sports takes time and steps cannot be skipped. A young talented athlete needs proper support from the family as well as proper financial support for all the expenses that can be encountered (food, transport, physio, equipment, etc.). A young athlete also needs dedication and discipline (ie : not missing practice and doing the work). The coach, however, is there to lead the athlete on the right path and to make the athlete reach his/her potential fully. Yet, in weightlifting, many often forget about how important stages are and get carried away with weights.
The great athlete is the the uninjured talented athlete who has highly efficient movement patterns. When I was a kid, I was my baseball team’s best pitcher. I would strike out most people. Yet, my coaches never let me pitch for the whole game. As a 10 year old kid, this was frustrating to me. However, in this context, the coach did what he should have been doing. He made sure I experienced competitive pitching without overdoing it for the sake of preserving my shoulder integrity. Their motto was : ”Pitch too much when you are young, and you won’t be able to pitch when it will matter”.
The shoulder is a funny joint. It is stable only if muscles are willing to make it stable. Thus, it is not stable like the knee joint which has lots of ligaments to hold it in place (and the bone themselves are better placed). Thus, muscle mass and muscle strength are key in preserving shoulder integrity. Some kids tend to have laxity in their shoulder griddles before the muscle mass grows. Pitching is done at very high velocity which could result in injuries IF it is overdone (read : pitching is good, too much pitching is not. Recovery is important).
Thus, at that age in Baseball, our goal was to develop a foundation of fitness and refine technique (pitching, sprinting, catching, etc.). Such a foundation is important for later on in our careers because less injuries will happen, the body will be ready to take bigger stresses (more training loads), and basic general physical attributes (endurance, stamina, strength, etc.) will be developed enough to sustain a much more specific approach that will translate in very high results. The same approach is used in all sports give or take a few minor differences. So why would it be so different when developing young lifters? Why are kids trained on low volume and without doing any GPP work?
I cannot explain to myself why some 8-12 years old kids are training on heavy singles and low volume. You cannot take a young developing lifter and skip the first step of training – you will pay the cost later on. At that age and in our sport, you are looking to develop technique which just cannot happen with heavier weights (90%+) done for a single when you are starting out. A 10 years old kid trained on singles is a kid that is going to lack 1) endurance/stamina (which is important for competition), 2) muscle mass and 3) the ability to sustain bigger volume of training later on. To sum it up, more reps means more practice means better refinement of technique. It also means less injuries and more muscle mass and stamina.
The goal is produce athletes that are going to be the best on the national and international stages. Most make it by the time they are 18 to 22 years old. It is often said that it takes about 6 years to produce elite female lifters and about 8-10 years to produce elite male lifters. So, a 10 years old male lifter has 8 to 10 years of training to go through before he can make it. Why would you risk injury (only happens when the approach is not right) and want them to do big bars when they are 2-3 years in their career instead of when it matters (8 years later)?
Generally speaking, we want our young athletes to refine technique and build a GPP base for the first 3 years of their career. That means lots of reps with lower weights, lots of drills, lots of variation of exercises, lots of non weightlifting exercises (gymnastics), lots of jumping and sprinting/running ( Read : not just doing full snatch – full clean and jerk and squats) Sets of 5 or 10 are not unheard in the strength exercises (pulls, presses, squats) during that phase. Real strength training starts during puberty and will produce better results due to hormones but also due to the fact it is following a general phase of technique and hypertrophy. At puberty, the training approach should change a bit and become more specific and be more strength oriented.