Key Factors Influencing Long-Term Player Development
1) Physical Literacy
Physical literacy is key to both the enjoyment of participating in sport and serves as requisite as we develop participants through the various stages of development. The development of physical literacy (much like establishing a base level of reading, writing and arithmetic in school) should be a major focus prior to the adolescent growth spurt. The process of becoming physically literate is influenced by an individual’s age, maturation and capacity. Typically, individuals who are physically literate demonstrate a wide variety of basic fundamental movement skills, and fundamental sport skills. In addition, these individuals move with poise, confidence, competence, and creativity in different physical environments. Individuals who are physically literate are also more likely to be active for life as they have developed a sense of confidence through his/her development.
Sports are often categorized as either early or late specialization activities. Typically, early specialization sports include artistic and acrobatic sports such as gymnastics, diving and figure skating, particularly for female participants. A possible rationale is that these activities involve very complex skills learned at a young age due to a much greater difficulty in mastering those skills if taught after a significant level of maturation. Negative aspects of early specialization include one-sided sport-specific preparation; a lack of fundamental movement and sport skills; a high incidence of overuse injuries; and an early retirement from training and competition. In contrast, most other sports are late specialization which benefit from a solid physical literacy and, at times, an early engagement in the activity (i.e. an introduction to the eventual targeted activity).
3) Developmental Age
Children of the same chronological age can differ by several years in his/her level of biological maturation. Growth, development and rate of maturation result from a complex interaction of genes, hormones, nutrients and the environment in which an individual lives. These interactions are particularly evident over the first two decades of life as an infant evolves into a young adult. Growth vs. Maturation vs. Development: The terms growth and maturation are often used together and sometimes synonymously, however, each has a distinct meaning: Growth: the observable step-by-step changes in quantity and measurable changes in body size such as height, weight and fat percentage. Maturation: the qualitative system changes, both structural and functional, in the body’s progress towards maturity such as the change of cartilage to bone in the skeleton. Development: in contrast to the previous terms, development refers to both biological and behavioral contexts; including aspects such as cell specialization and how the youngster adjusts to his/her cultural milieu (i.e. develops beliefs and values). The tempo of a child’s growth has significant implications for athletic training because children who mature at an early age have a major advantage during the Learn to Compete stage compared to those of average or late maturation. After all athletes have gone through his/her growth spurt, however, it is often those who mature late who have the greater potential to become top athletes provided he/she experience quality coaching throughout that period.
4) Sensitive Periods
A sensitive period is a broad time frame or window when the learning of a specific skill, or the development of a specific physical/cognitive capacity is particularly effective. The entire period of childhood can be viewed as a sensitive period for mastering fundamental movement skills. Trainability during the sensitive periods of accelerated adaptation to training refers to the body’s responsiveness to training stimuli at different stages of growth and maturation. Although the physiological systems of the athlete can be trained at any age, there are sensitive periods when individuals are especially responsive to specific types of training. The concept of trainability has caused considerable discussion within sport and academic communities. Trainability is well documented in coaching and research literature and provides reasonable evidence of periods of sensitivity for accelerated adaptation to training and/or exposure to various stimuli.
5) The 10 S’s of Training and Performance
Stamina (Endurance), Strength, Speed, Skill, Suppleness (Flexibility), Structure/Stature, Schooling, (p)Sychology, Sustenance, and Socio-Cultural. Building on the original Five S’s of Training (Dick, 2007), the array of 10 S’s provides a comprehensive and holistic array of factors to be considered when planning a program for developing athletes. A number of specific resources are available toathletes, parents, coaches and others concerning these factors via the Canadian Sport for Life website.
6) Mental, Cognitive and Emotional Development
Mental, cognitive and emotional factors are essential to each player’s development. Not only is holistic development—which encompasses all of these factors in addition to physical development—beneficial to the individual, but all of these skill sets are interlinked. Just as physical and technical skills require long-term and sequential development, so too do the psychological aspects of athlete development. This includes a range of knowledge sets such as the underpinnings of fair play and ethical sport; mental skills for performance; emotional regulation; sequencing; and decision-making. A major objective of LTPD is a holistic approach to player development which includes emphasis on ethics, fair play and character building throughout the various stages—an objective that reflects Canadian values. Programming should be designed with consideration for the player’s cognitive ability to address these concepts.
Simply put, periodization is time management. As a planning technique, periodization provides the framework for arranging the complex array of training processes into a logical and scientifically-based schedule to bring about optimal improvements in performance. Periodization sequences the training components into weeks, days and sessions. Periodization is situation-specific, depending on priorities and the time available to bring about the required training and competition improvement. In the context of LTPD, periodization connects the stage a player is in to the requirements of that stage. Periodization, far from being a single fixed process or methodology, is in fact a highly flexible tool. When used appropriately in conjunction with sound methodology as well as ongoing monitoring and evaluation, it is an essential component in optimal sports programming and athlete development at all levels.
Optimal competition calendar planning at all stages of LTPD is critical to athlete development. At certain stages, developing the physical capacities take precedence over competition. At later stages, the ability to compete well becomes the focus. It should be noted that optimal sport-specific competition ratios are required for all stages of LTPD. Level and length of the competition season should be aligned with the changing needs of the developmental player progressing through the stages. Over-competition and under-training at the Learn to Golf and Introduction to Competition stages will result in a lack of basic skills and fitness. The appropriate level of competition is critical to technical, tactical and mental development at all stages.
9) Excellence Takes Time
It has been suggested a minimum of 10 years of practice (sometimes stated as 10,000 hours) is needed for expert performers in any field to reach the elite level. Other evidence indicates elite players require at least 11–13 years of practice to reach levels of excellence. The essential lesson is the same—there are no short cuts to achieving excellence. Player development is a long-term process and elite players will require approximately a decade or more of practice to achieve international standing. As part of this process, short-term performance goals must never be allowed to undermine long-term player development. Recently, the validity of the 10,000 hours concept has been questioned and it has been suggested athletes can achieve excellence in much shorter periods of time. These suggestions, however, do not take into account the sports and activities that players participated in prior to specialization. Principals of LTPD emphasize a multi-sport approach and that all former activities should be included in the assessment of the process as they are an integral part of the extensive investment in the pathway. Whether it is 10,000 hours (or less), excellence always takes time.
10) System Alignment and Integration
A critical goal for the Canadian Sport for Life movement and specifically for each sport is the alignment of all stakeholders and partners under a common overarching objective with a clear understanding of the roles and responsibilities of all concerned.
11) Continuous Improvement—Kaizen
The LTPD framework is based on the principle of continuous improvement, both in its dynamic evolution and in its application.