Youth Fitness Training – Long Term Athletic Development

Often times, we are alerted to the coaches or parents that push children to extreme lengths to excel in sports or a specific sport. As onlookers we see and are amazed and motivated by the promise of seemingly immediate success and gratification, popularity, and in some instances fame and fortune. Many youth coaches and parents are convinced that specialization is the only way to attain success. I ask those that believe in these ideas: What is your idea of success on a grand scale? What is the impact or repercussions of reaching for immediate success? What is this message we are sending to our children?

The message is an errant one – success now is traded in for the perpetuity of success. In other other words, dominating today’s training session or winning this weekend’s tournament with flawless performance is the most important thing regardless of the ACTUAL importance of either situation in the child’s life. The belief in immediate and strictly positive (relative term) results is a flawed thought process about the development of young athletes, and DEVELOPMENT IN GENERAL.

The most disappointing part of this attitude toward youth fitness and more specificity youth sports is the way kids are coached. When performance is not reflective of the coach’s idea of perfection, the effort is met with yelling, belittling, and negative criticism. For some reason, this is acceptable by many parents as “what they need.” Perhaps even more devastating to the situation is that the parents may be the ones that are doing the belittling and so on.

It is important to remember that feedback is under direct control of parents and coaches. It can be negative or positive feedback, and which ever it is will decide for a child whether they were a success or a failure in that moment. However, success and failure must be defined relative the the bigger picture of growth and development. If someone wins something are they forever successful or vice versa if they lose? It is my belief that there is no such thing as success or failure, rather there is only feedback and individual perspective.

So what is the alternative to this errant coaching process?

There are so many coaches and parents out there that understand the importance of Long Term Athletic Development (LTAD), but the term is not as recognized as it should be. In my opinion, the LTAD model should be THEE foundation of training a youngster.

LTAD is birthed from a Japanese business concept called Kaizen. Kaizen promotes a long term approach toward individual and organizational improvement.

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The concept is simple, and it works: If each individual within an organization is continually improving their knowledge and application of knowledge, by effect the organization will continually improve because the individuals in each organizational department are actively pursuing excellence in manageable increments while simultaneously becoming more efficient. Nothing about Kaizen or the LTAD model promotes radical changes in activity with guaranteed increases in “x” “y” and “z” by next week. Progress takes time.

Regarding the fitness industry, coaches that understand and ascribe to LTAD and parents that seek out LTAD for their children do not use or fall victim to the marketing strategies of some that promise immediate and drastic performance enhancement. The sad reality is that the style of training that focuses on immediate progress will most likely only benefit the tiny percentage of athletes in a group that are the most physically and mentally mature. This coaching style leaves many other kids with feelings of inadequacy and low-self esteem.

That coaching style sucks.

On the other hand, coaches that ascribe to the LTAD model teach all kids that continual improvement as the marker of athletic success rather than chasing immediate performance enhancement and gratification. This style of coaching and concept goes beyond sports! LTAD has everything to do with personal improvement that can be used across a life span. Continual improvement leads to desired performance. I firmly believe it does not work the other way around, and is the basis for the BEST tagline – Effort. Passion. Success.

I’ll leave this conversation with a quote from John Wooden:

“When you improve a little each day, eventually big things occur. When you improve conditioning a little each day eventually you have a big improvement in conditioning. Not tomorrow, not the next day, but eventually a big gain is made. Don’t look for the big, quick improvement. Seek small improvements one day at a time. That’s the way it happens – and when it happens, it lasts.”

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Brooks, T. & Stodden, D. (2012). Essentials of youth conditioning and fitness. Lubbock TX: Chaplain Publishing.

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