Long-term athletic development is essential to prepare youth for sport and an active lifestyle.
Several models have provided general frameworks for long-term athletic development from different perspectives that consider factors such as when to sample and specialize and what physical qualities to train. More recently, more specific long-term athletic development models have emerged that focus on both specific modes of training and specific fitness qualities. This includes models focused on the development of speed, agility, power, and endurance and models devoted to resistance training, plyometric training, and weightlifting. These models incorporate factors such as technical competency, developmental stage, maturation, and training age to describe the long-term progression of athletic development.
A challenge for the coach is to understand how these models inform one another and how they integrate into practice to allow the use of multiple modes of training to develop various components of fitness simultaneously throughout childhood and adolescence. Mr. Pichardo examined how information from various models can be integrated to maximize youth’s physical long-term athletic development. For this discussion, we want to focus on the development of speed, agility, and speed endurance, which is essential for most sports. It must reflect the selected sport or position’s physiological characteristics, and ultimately it must be integrated into the periodized training plan.
Pichardo reviewed three models that have arguably had the most significant influence on how youth athletes are physically developed. They are the Developmental Model of Sports Participation (DMSP) of Côté & Vierimaa (2014), The Long Term Athletic Development (LTAD) model by Balyi et al. (2013), and the Youth Physical Development (YPD) model proposed by Lloyd et al. (2016). While each of those models provides a unique perspective, they each provide a pathway for athleticism based on either chronological age or maturation.
According to the NSCA’s position statement on long-term athletic development, Athleticism refers to the ability to repeatedly perform a range of movements that require competent levels of motor skills, strength, power, speed, agility, balance, coordination, and endurance.
Speed training over an athlete’s lifetime
The differences in speed between players in relatively high and low competition levels demonstrate the importance of speed for athletic development. There is also a strong relationship between sprinting and other performance measures, such as jumping and strength, due to the influence of speed on athletic performance, several meta-analyses, and reviews on youth speed development. A series of guidelines provided in a historical study highlighted foundation movement skill (FMS) and resistance training’s importance to maximize speed development.
As with power training, speed training incorporates a significant emphasis on different forms of resistance training. The stage of speed development was defined by maturational status and training age rather than chronological age, which aligns with the YPD model. It included early childhood (age 0–7), prepubertal (age 7–12), circumpubertal (age 11–15 males, age 12–15 females), and late adolescence (age 16 males, age 15þ females).
YPD model suggests that training during early childhood should focus on FMS and strength training through active play and games that encourage proper running technique. The circumpubertal stage should focus on sprint technique and maximal sprints for speed development. At the same time, it should add hypertrophy to the resistance training program to maximize structural adaptations associated with increased force production and, thus, greater stride length. Lastly, the late adolescence stage features maximal sprints and complex training methods, which have been shown to improve repeated sprint ability and change of direction (COD) in youth.
Throughout childhood and adolescence, the pathway suggests that, given the known transfer of non-specific sprint training to speed, complimentary resistance training supports speed development. The guidelines provided by Oliver et al. (2013) organize training stages by maturation with training age as a critical component, as technical competency should always drive progression. This model further highlights FMS development’s importance before more complex non-specific training methods (e.g., plyometric and strength training). Furthermore, developing FMS through free play and small-sided games may enhance FMS’s coupling to more complex sport skills. They should be included throughout development due to links with athletic motor skills and long-term physical activity effects.
Agility training over an athlete’s lifetime
The development of agility is essential for most field and court team sports due to the need to react and change direction in reaction to external stimuli. Agility refers to a rapid whole-body movement with a change of velocity or direction in response to a stimulus. There are several systematic reviews that have examined the effect of resistance training on agility and COD in youth along with many other experimental studies which have investigated the relationship of COD with other measures of athletic performance and the trainability of COD using both specific and non-specific training methods.
Studies proposed three main components of agility training FMS, COD speed, and reactive agility training (RAT), and attempted to show how training focus could change with increases in technical competency. Several studies also discussed adolescent awkwardness which refers to the temporary loss in motor coordination during rapid growth and is characterized by more considerable movement variability and decreased movement proficiency. Athletes experiencing “adolescent awkwardness” during the circumpubertal years may need coaches to give special attention to body position and technique as they learn to coordinate their longer limbs.
The concept of progressing from FMS to more complex training modes throughout development is central to athletic development and other fitness-specific models. Studies suggest strength plyometric and combined training effectively improves COD speed, and coaches should implement these appropriately alongside agility training. This concept is like the YPD model’s approach to simultaneously training all fitness components. Additionally, as with speed, games and free play can serve as effective coupling FMS methods with more complex sport skills.
Balyi, I., Way, R., & Higgs, C. (2013). Long-term athlete development.
Côté, J., & Vierimaa, M. (2014). The developmental model of sport participation: 15 years after its first conceptualization. Science & Sports, 29.
Lloyd, R. S., Cronin, J. B., Faigenbaum, A. D., Haff, G. G., Howard, R., Kraemer, W. J., … Oliver, J. L. (2016). National strength and conditioning association position statement on long-term athletic development. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 30(6), 1491–1509.
Oliver, J. L., Lloyd, R. S., & Rumpf, M. C. (2013). Developing speed throughout childhood and adolescence. Strength and Conditioning Journal, 35(3), 42–48.
Pichardo, A. W., Oliver, J. L., Harrison, C. B., Maulder, P. S., & Lloyd, R. S. (2018). Integrating models of long-term athletic development to maximize the physical development of youth. International Journal of Sports Science & Coaching, 13(6), 1189–1199.
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