Global Development vs. Sport Specific Training
It’s All in the Science
Brian Grasso is the CEO of the International Youth Conditioning Association and is considered one of the premier authorities on youth athletic development in the world. Access Brian’s free database of articles and exercises at Developing Athletics
The goals of any trainer or coach working with a young athlete (pre-pubescent) should include increasing proficiency of motor ability, developing functional versatility (from a strength, movement and biomechanical standpoint) and lastly, inhibiting the potential negative effects of specialized training. Upon reflection, these points, both individually and collectively, lend to the credence that when working with young, pre-pubescent aged athletes, the mandate should be one of global, all-encompassing development rather than specialized ventures into sport specific training.
With pre-pubescent children, muscle innervation is completed by roughly the age of 6 years. Muscle innervation refers to the final expansion of motor nerve endings within a muscle fiber’s interior. The impact of this action on motor coordination is quite profound. At the conclusion of the muscle innervation process (again, roughly by the age of 6, although individual variances occur), children are now able to learn and begin the process of establishing functional proficiency in gross motor skills and movement patterns. It is critical to understand, however, that the innervation process happens more quickly and earlier (chronologically) in larger muscles. Again, innervation being linked to coordination and motor control, it stands to reason that children gain proficiency in gross motor skills more quickly than finer skills. This remains another argument for why early specialization is counterproductive – every sport requires various degrees of fine motor skills, which can simply not become functional abilities in younger athletes. Global aspects of gross motor skill development are most understandably the crucial component of training pre-pubescent children.
No one can learn how to create 6 or 12 month plans in a day. It takes time and diligent effort to acquire this skill, but your ability to get better over time will have a direct and positive impact on both your young athletes’ success rate as well as your businesses ability to attract new clients. Set an objective for yourself to create a system or plan that allows you to develop long-term and wide-focused agendas for your young athletes. Take several days or weeks if need be to create a system that is streamlined and easy to implement – although your are looking for a comprehensive system, the more basic you make it, the more easy it will be to adhere to.
Start simply. Take a piece of paper and write out where you want your young athletes to be in 4 weeks. Create headings and then just fill in each category. For instance, what skill sets are you working on now? To what degree of competency do you want an athlete or team to be able to demonstrate that skill set in 1 month’s time? This can also be applied to elite adolescent athletes. Are you working on squat or power clean totals right now? If so, where do you want these numbers to be in 4 weeks?
Once you have organized your thoughts on where you would like to be in 4 weeks, you have to consider how you are going to get there. On the same or a different piece of paper, right out how many training sessions or practices you have with this athlete or team between now and 4 weeks from now. Date each training session or practice on your piece of paper. Now, using your skills as a Trainer or Coach, literally, just fill in the blanks. Compare where you want to be in 4 weeks with the number of training sessions or practices you have between now and then. In order to accomplish your 4-week goal, what action steps along a critical path must be taken? This is the essence of how to develop a long-term approach to working with young athletes. You will simply just write out your next several training sessions or practices in order to meet the objectives you have laid out for 4 weeks from now.
This system can easily be applied to 6 months or even a year. Just follow the same type of procedure as mentioned above – set out an objective for the time frame and decide where this athlete or team needs to be within that time frame. Let’s say you have a 13-year-old athlete for 6 months and you want to determine an objective and critical path. Take out a piece of paper and write out where you want this athlete to be in 6 months. Be descriptive with this – what skill sets do you want him to have mastered? What kind of movement-based techniques will he show great competency in. Once you have decided that, break those large objectives down into more manageable ones and make them your first 4-week objective. To get to your end destination, where to you have to be at the end of this month? From there break it down even farther by deciding on how many training sessions or practices you will have over the course of the next 4 weeks and design them in accordance with your 4 week objective. Next month, do the same thing.
An amazing thing happens when you create objectives and critical plans like this. You will start seeing results in your athletes and teams beyond what you ever-dreamed possible. Failing to plan is one of the biggest concerns facing this industry. It seems everything is taken on a session-by-session basis with no vision or thought to the long-term. It could argued that individual Trainers and Coaches didn’t know how to plan for the future… well; now you do!
Practice the skill of objective writing and critical path creation. It will take time to design a system that flows well for you, but it is more than worth it to your young athletes and teams.
Learn more about Brian’s complete system of developing young athletes – completeathletedevelopment