Elements of Training in an Athlete’s Development
Paul Laurendet is one of NSW’s finest middle-distance coaches. During his coaching career he coached national champions (Holt Hardy 1500m) and Commonwealth champions and Olympic medalists (Clinton Hill 4x400m relay) and assisted with the program for his wife, Jenny Laurendet, a Commonwealth Games 400m hurdles medallist. In this article Laurendet discusses adolescent development, from his wealth of experience as a coach and teacher for over 30 years.
As coaches we should always be open to advice, ready to listen and search for new ideas that will add to our knowledge base and help us to make more informed decisions about are charges.
One of my major influences when I had only coached for a few years was a Canadian coach called Istvan Balyi. His ideas are very simple, make incredible sense and are of great benefit to coaches of little athletes who are now continuing in your care beyond the early teens and on to young adults. When chatting to Peter Lawler one day he suggested that I might write an article relating to the problems that Little Athletics coaches are now facing of the need to take their athletes on to new levels in an age where their bodies and minds are undergoing enormous changes that as youngsters did not need to be considered.
Balyi talks of the athlete’s long term development in stages
Boy: 6-10 years Boys: 10-14 years Boys: 14-18 years Men: 18 years +
Girls: 6-10 years Girls: 10-13 years Girls: 13-17 years Women: 17 years +
In the first stage the emphasis should be on having fun in sports, doing a variety of different sports and mainly playing games without the need for competition.
In the second stage the athletes are training to train, where the emphasis is on training and learning skills with some competition being introduced.
In the third stage the athletes are training to compete and it is in this age group that we should start to have State and National level competitions, and where the training is geared to having the athletes compete.
In the final stage we have adult athletes who are now training to compete and win and be ready for national and international level competition.
As a consequence of this we need to now look at the elements of training (the name of the article at last!) and how we organise them throughout the stage of an athlete’s long term development.
So what are the elements of training?
Speed, Speed Endurance, Endurance, Strength, Mobility, Flexibility and Body Awareness.
These are the elements I consider in my athletes programs and it is the combination of them that we must look at carefully when deciding on the programs for our athletes. In the first stage of 6-10 year olds we should be looking at keeping most activities simple with an emphasis on flexibility and endurance with some aspects of speed but being very cautious of speed endurance and strength as with young bodies they do not have the physiology to deal with the waste products from speed endurance and they do not have the muscle capacity for strength training. They should also only be doing specific training for athletics 1-2 times per week so it is important to only use a few elements that will ensure they remain in the sport whilst being healthy and uninjured!
In the second stage 10-14 year old boys and 10-13 year old girls we have athletes in upper primary and early high school where they have the opportunity to compete at school level against their peers. In this stage we can begin to introduce some basic strength training in the form of circuits where we use their own bodies as the resistance. Some simple forms of speed endurance can also be started here but care must be taken with high intensity repetitions with short recovery. This is to be avoided as the reaction to a high build-up of hydrogen ions from the production of lactic acid can be incredibly harmful to the young athlete. Psychological as well as physiological problems can occur from such demanding training. This should only be considered in the next stage. Emphasis on correct technique is critical in this stage as the athletes are starting to grow and change shape and their brains are struggling to cope with the reprogramming needed to adjust for these massive changes. With correct technique so the athlete can begin to be more aware of their body and how they move. Also how they cope with the increasing stresses that the training is making their bodies having to absorb. On top of all of this do not forget about the general life stresses that are occurring. As a high school teacher of over 30 years experience it is the students in year 9 which is the 13-14 year olds that are often quite a handful. With more studies being done on brain development it has become clear why this is the case as it is around this age that the adolescent’s brain basically reboots itself and installs a new operating system. So my advice is to tread carefully around athletes at this age, less is more is a good rule of thumb.
Flexibility and mobility are still being concentrated on with good aerobic fitness being the aim in this stage. A very good way to add mobility training is in the form of hurdle drills and some training over hurdles for all young athletes. It is a wonderful way to make training fun and add some mobility to the athletes that is often overlooked. An excellent form of flexibility training is yoga which teaches not only some good stretches but adds body awareness to the equation. I would wait until the athletes are in the 13-14year age bracket before introducing yoga as the younger age groups generally do not have the self discipline needed to achieve the desired outcomes form a yoga class.
In the third stage we can start to introduce all elements of training. Some basic weight training can be commenced when the athletes have generally completed their main growth spurt. Care must be taken here as I have seen some pretty amazing changes in adolescent bodies in this age group. The brain takes some time to come to terms with the new body shape and the different forces that this will introduce. As the athlete grows the levers in the limbs are changing and the messages that were previously being sent by the brain to do a specific movement are now considerably different. We have all heard of the ungainly teenager, this is the reason. At this stage the body awareness is very important. Make sure the athlete is listening to their body as there will be a range of problems that may occur and it is imperative that training be reduced when these problems arise. If you can introduce the concept of patience and realizing that a short term goal that results in a long term injury is not the way to go. We want our athletes to remain in the sport and enjoy it as an adult when the full range of training activities can be employed and enjoyed.
At this stage some elements of more intensive speed endurance can be employed but care must be taken to do so with sufficient recovery programmed in the days after such sessions. If the introduction of these more difficult types of training is introduced as the athlete becomes more mature both physically and psychologically the incidence of athlete dropout due to injury and illness should be vastly reduced.
In the final stage of the athletes development we have a young adult who has been introduced now to all the elements involved in training and can now look at utilizing all of these in a structured and well balanced program.
Many examples of such programs are now available on the internet. Look carefully and be selective, just because it works for one athlete it may not necessarily work for yours. The important job as a coach is to be aware of your athletes at training and monitor how they are coping with the workload you have given them. The younger the stage of development the less the athlete should be in a state of distress. Remember that children are not little adults!