Long Term Athlete Development; Are we coaching our kids correctly?


Research suggests that it may take 8-to-12 years of training for a talented player/athlete to
reach elite level status, also known as the 10,000 hour rule (Balyi and Hamilton, 2003; Ericsson). Roughly it takes about 10,000 hours to reach elite level status. In the United States, it is estimated that forty five million children (age 5-18) play organized sports each year (Minnesota Amateur Sports Commission, Athletic Footwear Association, USA Today). Some of the parents and coaches of these young athletes approach sports with a “Peak by Friday” mentality. This over-emphasis on immediate results and competitions does not allow the child to develop fundamental physical literacy (Competence in a wide variety of physical activities in multiple environments that benefits healthy development.) and skill (Balyi and Hamilton, 2003).

The excess games and “Peak by Friday” mentality puts significant pressure on the child. In some cases, coaches and parents expect kids to move and make plays like adults. These developing children simply do not have the movement based skill and strength to coordinate their body to accomplish the physical task. This lack of proper coaching, training and athletic development may lead to an inordinate number of kids quitting sports before they even have finished developing physiologically. Thus, by age 15, seventy percent of kids stop playing sports all together (National Center for Health Statistics).

Most of the coaches in youth sports are volunteers with little or no training. Youth sports organizations are thankful to have volunteers, however, of the 2-4 million coaches only 20% have received any type of training in effective motivational techniques, and just 1 in 3 have been trained in skills and tactics in the primary sport they coach (Aspen Institue’s Sports & Society Program by the Sports & Fitness Industry Association, 2013).
Not to mention the fact, most coaches have little experience in exercise and movement that is developmental and or relative to the sport they are coaching.

The lack of properly trained coaches often leads to an excessive number of competitions/games and an emphasis on sports-specific skills only with little emphasis on developing agility, balance, coordination, and strength (ABC’S). It is much easier to play a game than to develop a strong fundamental practice that meets the needs of the child’s development physically. In turn, the lack of physical development may lead to incomplete athletic development lending to epidemic of sports injuries caused by inadequate training and or overuse. For example, you have a young baseball or soccer player whose parents at a young age decide that this is “their sport”. That child plays year round with the coaches focusing on sport specific skills. That athlete potentially misses critical windows of physical development in strength, agility, balance, coordination and speed. Missing developmental milestones can result in overall low strength levels, incorrect landing mechanics, incorrect deceleration techniques, ligament laxity, muscle tightness, nonsymmetrical muscle development, and over-reliance on a particular limb.

Not to mention that fact that the child is not optimizing their body to enhance their sports performance. Consequently, the child never develops as an athlete first leading to many of the sports related injuries we see in our physical therapy and orthopedic clinics today. Knee ACL injuries in our soccer players and shoulder or elbow injuries in our baseball players are typical examples.

Research by numerous national governing bodies including, the United States Olympic Committee, and many others in sports has proven that early specialization in a sport actually prevents an athlete from reaching their full potential athletically.

More importantly, the lack of development of physical literacy and proper movement patterns can lead to decreased interest in any type of physical activity. By age 9 physical activity rates begin to drop sharply. By age 15, moderate-to-vigorous physical activity declines to just 49 minutes per weekday and 35 minutes per weekend (JAMA, 2008) A sedentary lifestyle ensues. It is well documented that sedentary living causes such health problems as; obesity, diabetes, high blood pressure, cardiovascular disease, and other chronic diseases that evolve to form a lifelong problem that potentially could have been averted in childhood.

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