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, with 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 always to set our young athletes up for success, but 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 that as coaches we embrace and utilize an approach geared towards what is called Long Term Athletic development (LTAD). The essential element and foundation of LTAD is an approach that is focused on developing overall athleticism which 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 to help our youth to develop better athletic abilities and movement skills that they can be transferred to any and all of their athletic endeavors. Understanding a few of the develop stages can be key in developing your own LTAD framework, so here I wanted to share a few of the phases that can be the main spokes in the LTAD wheel for 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 setting that is based upon learning and fun can be a great experience. In this stage the young athlete will gain skills that will lead to multi-joint motor pattern acquisition that can become vital as they move through later stages of development.
Every child will not be able to perform highly skilled movement patterns. This is a good place for them to explore movements but in an atmosphere that is non-judgemental and based on fun and enjoyment.
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 also enriching 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
Here in this stage young athletes that possess appropriate coordination and skill development can begin to progress towards more complex training methods. Here 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 it is always our responsibility to understand our youth athlete and what stages of development can be the most important for them at a certain juncture. Also, it is of extreme importance that we create an atmosphere that fosters an understanding of development driven versus results driven for our young youth athletes.
While we don’t want to give out participation trophies, 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 to creating a great environment for our young athletes to achieve lasting success.
Michael Piercy, MS, CSCS is the owner of The LAB in Fairfield, New Jersey. He is the recipient of the 2017 IDEA Personal Trainer of the Year award and has also been awarded the 2013 TRX FACEUP award for Overall Instructor of the Year. He represents brands such as Under Armour, TRX® and Matrix fitness as a Master Trainer. A former professional baseball player with the Pittsburgh Pirates, New York Mets and Montreal Expos, he brings his unique perspective to his work with athletes and active adults. He holds a master’s degree in exercise science with a concentration in performance enhancement and also holds multiple advanced level Certifications from organizations such as ACE, ACSM, NASM and NSCA.