As performance coaches we spend a good portion of our time looking to put our youth athletes in the best situations to have success in their athletic endeavors. With more access to information than at any time before in our society. The rush to over-specialization has been rampant in youth sports. Topics like the 10,000-hour rule and specialized coaching available for youth athletes of all ages. Too much specialization in sport at young age can open a door to significant drawbacks such as an over- use injury and early burn out.
As coaches, we also want to create a fun and enriching environment for them to explore their own athletic transformation. In creating a positive environment, it is imperative we embrace and utilize an approach called Long Term Athletic development (LTAD). The essential element and foundation of LTAD is an approach that is focused on developing overall athleticism. It can be utilized throughout the athletic career of the athlete. For instance, the little league Star Shortstop may be the center fielder for his high school team. The phenom small forward in Biddy Basketball might be the high school shooting guard.
Therefore, it is of the essence that as performance coaches we utilize a framework based on LTAD. It can help our youth to develop better athletic abilities and movement skills that can be transferred to athletic endeavors. Understanding a few of the develop stages can be key in developing your own LTAD framework. In the next paragraph, I wanted to share a few of the phases that can added to your coaching philosophy.
It is important in our young youth (ages 2-5) to hone in and teach motor development skills. Getting an idea of the foundations of coordination, strength, power, and agility in a learning and fun setting can be a great experience. In this stage, the young athlete will gain skills that will lead to multi-joint motor pattern acquisition. This can become vital as they move through later stages of development.
Every child will not be able to perform highly skilled movement patterns. A good place for them to explore movements is in an atmosphere that is non-judgemental and based on fun.
Learning to Train
Here, we are learning the basis of coordination and how we can transfer good movement patterns to learning some light elements of training. Learning the elements of movements in a dynamic warm-up can be fun and enriching. Especially from a standpoint of sequencing and coordinating movement for age ranges between 6-9. A dynamic warm up can include elements such as jumping, hopping, crawling and agility skill-based activities. The integration of light strength elements can teach the youth athlete to not only coordinate their own body weight but lead to functional skill development in a fun atmosphere.
Training to Train
In this stage, young athletes that possess appropriate coordination and skill development can begin to progress towards complex training methods. Athletes ranging from 10-13 would begin preparing themselves both physically and mentally for the demands of complex, high level athletic skill development. The use of open and closed drills in speed and agility, combined with more coordinated strength movements and plyometrics can prepare the youth athlete for the later stages of development.
Training to Compete
In this stage, we the youth athletes reaps the benefit of previous development stages in training. With correct implementation of the framework the athlete becomes accomplished and improves in coordination skills, functional strength, muscular endurance, speed and agility. The training from this standpoint is geared to allow an athlete in the ranges of (14 and up) to transfer athletic skill sets, movement competency and functional strength to the arena of sport.
In closing always remember that all of our programming should be age related, not age determined. As the coach, our responsibility to understand youth athletes and what stages of development can be important for them at a certain juncture. Above all, it’s important we create an atmosphere that fosters an understanding development driven versus results driven for young athletes.
We don’t want to give out participation trophies. However, winning at all costs in the athletic arena cannot be our goal. An environment that breeds fun, learning and visible progress can go along way. It can create a great environment for our young athletes to achieve lasting success.