Rudimentary considerations to enhance youth athlete development1 Opinion
In the recent decade there has been a fair amount of quality information regarding long-term planning of athletic development. To note, two of the most popular conceptual models to date are the Long-Term Athlete Development (LTAD) model (Bayli) and the Youth Development Model (YDM) (Lloyd). The LTAD model originally illustrated qualities of development that should be emphasized during various stages of chronological maturation; to whereas the YDM model promotes a more holistic and individualized approach. In theory, basing a conceptual model off of chronological age seems very fitting; however, not all individuals mature at the same rate as the YDM model states. Since their original work both authors have published updated stances of their models to include biological and maturational markers of development. They have noted that several factors dictate growth and maturation (peak height velocity, growth plates, pubescent growth, etc) but some notable factors tend to be overlooked. Those factors are sheer genetics (organism), environment, and task constraints (Newell). Genetic factors cannot be changed but evidence suggests genetics can be influenced based from the environmental and task constraints imposed on the individual. It has been stated by Smith and colleagues (2003) that “even very small differences in beginning stages of development can amplify and lead to large individual differences” later in life.
Environmental and Task factors can include, but not limited to:
- Geographical conditions (terrestrial, natural, technogenic, demographic, etc)
- Home life (parents, siblings, type of home, time spent engaged in interactive activities, etc)
- Athletic Exposure (running, jumping, and striking in different scenarios)
There’s not enough scientific evidence out there to answer the questions on what are “best practices” for childhood development; however, it is difficult to disagree that a certain level of physical fitness and motor control are needed for longevity in athletics and activity. Neuromotor reflexes must be taught at a cognitive level in early phases of development in order to become procedural patterns during more complex training and activities. The type of physical activity and the direction to carry on with development has not been discussed thoroughly in any LTAD nor YDM literature beyond the basics of “Strength, Speed, Balance, Flexibility, Agility” emphasis. Future research should attempt to provide the framework for rudimentary progressions emphasizing mastery of weight shift and center of mass in order to enhance future training in athletics.
When working with youth and/or underdeveloped athletes rudimentary options (medicine balls, pvc pipes, weighted vest, etc) should be considered. Task constraints must be appropriate to the population in order to optimize transfer of training. As simple as it sounds one must consider the Goldilock’s Theory:
- If the constraint is not stimulating enough then there will be limited transfer.
- If the constraint is overly stimulating/advanced then there will be limited transfer.
- However, if the constraint is appropriate then optimal transfer of training presents itself.
The constraint, or modality of training, must be specific to the athlete’s current state of training and ability. Clark (2005) argues that patterns of coordination and perceptual-motor linkages between the vestibular and motor system should be acquired in early stages of development for optimal transfer of training in later phases. She points out that an athlete should reflect “deep grammar” of trunk and limb coordination and control in order to advance in complex motor skill competence. Clark also references mastery of “weight shift” as highly relevant to context-specific skill learning in “throwing, skiing, or performing other activities that require rapid changes of direction.” Coincidentally, weight shift is a pivotal component of executing weightlifting movements and their derivatives. Far too often in today’s society we see adolescents and youth being promoted to more complex skill and developmental training prior to physically “earning” their advancement thus potentially setting them up for “long-term underdevelopment” / injuries.
A key evaluation the practitioner must make is whether they are training their athletes for performance or training for development. Development should emphasize proficiency of “natural” movements specific to the population at hand while progressively getting more task specific over the course of training. Youth and developmental training should primarily focus around progressing through “stages”. Gesell (1946) defines “stages” as a series of postural transformations that should emphasize coordination. Rate of development is independent to each individual based on organisimic and environmental constraints; however, simply learning how to move appropriately is the underlying overarching goal for development. Once the athlete has advanced in their developmental stages the practitioner can then consider performance oriented optimal training and loading for weightlifting task. Critical features must be addressed prior to implementation of “advanced” movements of fundamental training for weightlifting and resistance movements (i.e. weight shift and body control).
It is important to recall that weightlifting (often used in sport training) is a sport itself and a skill. Guthrie (1952) defines “skill” as “the ability to bring about some end result with maximum certainty and minimum outlay of energy, or of time and energy.” Activities such as weightlifting, jumping, and sprinting are skills and are learned through practice as they are not maturational movements such as walking. Though the human body can mature and develop for “strength” we must not neglect the importance to develop early with foundational strength and quality of movements in order to express “movement” more proficiently in later stages of development. None of the aspects of developmental growth should be disregarded in any phase as all are essential for proper sequencing of movements and rate coding; however, emphasis should be given where it is needed most for each individual.
According to Smith and colleagues (2003) in order to reach the “critical condition” (peak performance) one must change their training process over time and therefore enhance the emergence of a new mode of behavior. This can be viewed as a rudimentary version of Stone’s “phase potentiation” model (2007) which states (simply) that we must change “X” in order to potentially enhance & witness “Y” and “Z”. In this instance X can be referred to neuromuscular development to whereas Y and Z can be viewed as strength/speed and performance, respectively. A child does not first learn the alphabet backwards nor should we professionals develop them in that order. ABC’s (fundamental motor skills) before XYZ’s.
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Tags:Long-Term Athlete Development (LTAD) modelPsychology of SportSport PsychologySports PsychologyYouth Development Model (YDM)
About Keith Scruggs
Strength, Speed & Performance Coach to Olympic, Paralympic, & Pan-American Athletes Across the USofA | UNCA, ETSU, PhD Student - USC