Why Athletic Development Matters
When it comes to athletes, critical developmental stages begin at an early age. As children mature, they progress through these important developmental stages during their growth and maturation process. If long-term athletic development is of any importance to the coach, parent, or athlete, specific aspects of athletic development must be addressed at appropriate time periods, otherwise the chances of the athlete reaching elite status is reduced.
The model used at Gallagher Performance began with a review of research and methods utilized in child and athletic development around the world. Through the review of current and past training methods used with elite athletes, it was concluded that to truly address athlete development, a new way of looking at how to properly structure “Strength and Conditioning” programs must be considered.
The reason is because early specialization in sport is becoming increasingly more common amongst children in the United States, and it’s not working. The rationale behind such a decision typically being if a child plays one sport, year round, they will be more advanced than their peers, more likely to be the ‘star’, get recruited, and/or possibly go on to make millions.
Recent research from UCLA reveals that early specialization in sport has very poor connection with young athletes achieving elite status. A survey of almost 300 NCAA Division I athletes found that 88% played two or three sports as children and 70% did not specialize in one sport until after the age of 12. These findings were already understood in former East Germany and USSR within their youth development programs.
Studies in former East Germany and USSR found that children who went through an early specialization program did have more immediate improvement in their performances. But these children also had their best performances between the ages of 15-16, had greater inconsistencies, many quit or ‘burnt out’ by the age 18, and they had greater rate of injuries because of forced adaptation compared to children who played multiple sports and specialized later in life.
Long-term athletic development is a process that occurs over many years. This is not an “8 week program”. Rather, it starts at an early age and continues on into adulthood. Long-term athletic development is about progressive development and must be approached accordingly. It is not simply a linear process, but is one that must be highly individualized to assist the athlete in reaching their full potential.
The greatest challenge to coaches, parents, and athletes is the understanding of how difficult this process is. Young athletes are continually dealing with massive changes in physical attributes, brain function, and sport skill acquisition. These all must be managed simultaneously while stressing the concepts of hard work in a positive environment.