Updated: Dec 18, 2020
"Each tiny effort builds on the next, so that brick by brick, magnificent things can be created."
- Robin Sharma
How Does Periodized Training Apply To My Youth Athlete?
As parents and coaches of youth athletes, it’s exciting if your child or child on your team is athletic and stands out from the group. It can also be quite intoxicating to see the potential limitless future this young person COULD have as an athlete. I have touched on this in past blog posts that include multi-sport vs single sport athletes and long term athletic development.
Periodized Training is a guide that can help coaches and parents remember to focus on long term development of their child athlete, rather than getting caught up in the need to develop their potential right away. As a parent or as a coach, if you see the potential for your young athlete, and feel that they have the talent and athleticism to play at a top 10 Division I University and/or to one day become a professional athlete, the long game is important.
What does this actually mean, long game?
In this current climate of youth sports, parents and coaches will mistake the long game as the necessity to have their child/athlete specialize early, put in the 10,000 hours of specific sport training, and to hire all the coaches and trainers necessary to see results early and often. Unfortunately, this route more often than not, leads to early burnout and retirement from sport.
The following information references longitudinal studies on elite youth athletes. In these studies, kids identified as elite level youth athletes between the ages of 9 and 12 were placed in one of two groups, an early sport specialization group, or a multilateral development group (multi-sport group). The purpose of the study was to determine the effects of youth athletes specializing early in a single sport versus young athletes focused on multilateral development.
The results from the research:
*A lot of the athletes won junior championships and set junior records of achievement in their adolescence.
*Early skills development led to achieving personal peak performances before the age of 18.
*Experienced inconsistent performance in competition. It led to a loss of confidence over time.
*More pressure from parents and coaches to be successful, especially as adolescents.
*Majority peaked at or before the age of 18 and weren’t able to match or improve after the age of 18.
*Majority never competed in a national or international competition.
*Reported high incidents of burnout and retirement by age 18.
Early Multilateral Development
*Very few, if any, of these athletes won a junior championship or had record breaking achievements in adolescence.
*Multi-skills development led to slow growth, development, and improvement in their adolescence and teen years.
*Reported consistent and progressive improvements in competition. As a result, these athletes gained confidence over time.
*Less pressure from parents and coaches, especially (in adolescence) to be successful.
*Had progressive peak performances into their late 20’s.
* Majority went on to compete and have success in national and international competitions as elite athletes.
*Studies showed that athletes went on to have longer athletic careers.
The differences between single sport specialization and multilateral development:
Single Sport Specialization is as it sounds. The training is focused on the technical, tactical, and physical skills development necessary to improve and master a specific sport, like tennis, swimming, soccer, or gymnastics.
Multilateral Development focuses on developing the neuromuscular, cardiovascular, energy related systems, and physical development.
i. Neuromuscular system is the communication between the brain and the muscles via the nervous system. Neuromuscular Development teaches the brain to communicate with the muscles, activating the body to move, to be coordinated, and to be explosive.
ii. Cardiovascular system involves the heart, lungs, and blood vessels. Cardiovascular development allows for improved efficiency for the blood to deliver more oxygen to the muscles, thus increasing aerobic and non-aerobic capacities.
iii. Energy systems include the foods that provide the proper aerobic and anaerobic energy, training in a manner that taps into those energy sources, and learning how to replenish energy and avoid overtraining. Basically, learning how to train, rest, recover, and eat properly to fuel the body.
iv. Physical development involves growing the fine and gross motor skills that are foundational and age appropriate. Fine motor skills are the smaller muscle movements that allow you to grasp a fork, manipulate objects like constructing legos, and to do things like draw and write. It requires a high degree of control and precision. Gross motor skills involve larger muscle movements that include sitting, walking, crawling, running, jumping, and climbing. Gross motor skills also help to develop hand-eye coordination and depth perception.
In short, MD involves developing the body and mind together, progressing from simple to more complex tasks to help the athlete acquire the foundational skills (physical strength and agility) to perform more complex tasks, over time. This process includes participation in multi-sports and exposure to training methods that developed the whole body. Multi-sport youth athletes are exposed to multiple disciplines of strength, speed, agility, and endurance, as well as receiving specialized training in those sports.
After all, if an athlete is going to improve at any sport, he/she needs to know how to play the sport, how to coordinate their body, and to learn the technical and tactical skills necessary for that sport, like learning to throw a baseball, to shoot a basket in basketball, to learn to efficiently glide through the water as a swimmer, and to properly navigate whitewater in a kayak.
Lastly, the athletes training in the MD group graduated to specialized training between the ages of 15 and 17 years of age. Athletes in this group were identified as having developed the necessary physical (speed, strength, agility, and endurance) and mental (confidence, focus, and coping skills) capacities to transition to single sport participation.
What does the long term development model for sports look like?
According to the research, kids can start participating in organized youth sports as early as age six, with the focus on multilateral development. Sport specialization can start between the ages of 15 and 17, with the exception of sports like girls gymnastics (specialize at age 9-10 for girls), and swimming and tennis (specialization between ages 11-13 for girls and 13-15 for boys).
Why is age something to consider when specializing?
The research found that the moment athletes dedicate their time and energy to single sport specialization, they will reach peak performances within five to eight years from that point. Meaning, if a female gymnast specializes at age nine, she will likely experience peak performance (i.e., best performance, best season, etc…) between the ages of 14 and 17. It’s no wonder why you see so many young gymnasts competing in the Olympics.
In the end, long term periodized training, early multilateral development, and single sport specialization at a later age allow for a higher level of physical preparation, technical mastery, and confidence. Athletes will achieve higher levels of performance and participate longer in their sport. Overall, they will experience less stress and anxiety to be successful, have the time to develop physically and mentally, and they will be motivated to perform.
Bompa, T., & Haff, G. G. (2009). Periodization: Theory and Methodology of Training (5th ed.). Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics.
Mauro, T. (n.d.). How to Know If Your Children Are on Track With Motor Skills. Retrieved from https://www.verywellfamily.com/what-are-motor-skills-3107058