As is typical with these issues, “2 A Days” in and of themselves are not good or bad. To answer the question “are 2 a days good for youth sports,” we must look at how they are conducted to determine their upside/downside.
Triathletes regularly employ a 2 AD training model, but they do so intelligently, employing proper rest/recovery and nutrients to support those ends. Unfortunately, many youth sports coaches use 2 AD’s as merely a dull instrument to work their athletes harder while increasing contact hours.
However, there are a number of very beneficial ways to apply 2 AD’s. One powerful 2 AD model is to employ standard practice during either the 1st or 2nd session and use the other one for assessing and addressing weakness in the athlete’s physical chain – ankles, knees, hips, trunk/spine, shoulders, elbows and wrists. This is the working smarter, not harder model. Since this model’s 2nd session is not push till you puke, it also aids in recovery while developing a stronger, more efficient athlete who is better set up for tomorrows training.
Capacity is one of the 2 most important factors in physical and mental development. As such it should be factored into every training/practice session. We each have a finite ability or capacity to endure heat and fluid loss, along with the frequency, intensity, duration, volume and speed of training. When capacity is exceeded, the athlete needs to recover. If not, the body will reflexively begin to compensate and work inefficiently by taking more energy/effort to produce less. This is what leads to cycles of injury, deconditioning and poor performance.
Too many coaches and trainers work with a very limited set of tools – more, harder, faster, new or trendy. However, Recovery is what allows athletes to physiologically/metabolically adapt to training and Capacity is the yardstick to measure where that line is drawn. Loss of form, efficiency and responsiveness are some indicators that capacity has been exceeded. After about 90 min of sustained, strenuous activity, especially in the heat, EVERYONE has depleted their glycogen/energy stores. Although energy drinks and gels can help to some degree, they are a poor substitute for recovery.
Nutrition and sleep also factor into the athlete’s recovery cycle between practices. Whether 2 AD’s or not, if the athlete has not recovered, he begins practice the next day at “Diminished Capacity” which begins a downward spiral of sub-par development.
When coaches/trainers use Capacity and Recovery to govern their practices, 2 AD’s can be safely integrated into training programs. However, the reality is that most coaches myopically see 2 AD’s as just another opportunity to push as hard as you can as fast as you can. Poor execution and training protocol are the problem – not 2 AD’s. Athletic development is a science. Coaches and trainers that fail to understand or care about this simply use up and wear out most of their athletes. The one’s that are left, the superstars, the genetically gifted athletes, and therefore higher capacity, often thrive despite their coaching/training, not as a result of it.
Lastly, I know it’s popular and tempting to compare collegiate and professional training to adolescent training, but that is like comparing rhinos to lemons – it’s just wrong. Adolescents are enduring developmental growth cycles, most of which complete before age 18. Many college teams expect that you are already developed as an athlete during those growth cycles as they can continue to build skills on a solid athletic foundation, but don’t have the time to develop athletes first.
Unlike collegiate and youth sports, one of the primary mandates of professional sports teams is injury prevention. Yes, they continue to develop as players, but remember, they are assets on someone’s balance sheet. As such, it is important they stay healthy, so much of their training is focused on this end.
You might have an objective of teaching students to be future engineers or a physicists, which both require proficiency in calculus and differential equations. However, you don’t keep practicing these with your 13 year old students when they are still learning algebra I, because “this is what the pros use in your field.” But when it comes to youth sports, we abandon this rational thinking regarding development.
Just remember, sports are part of our kids education… Physical Education.