Developing the Youth Athlete

Fundamental movement skills provide the foundation for all round athletic development. For an athlete to progress in sport, the building blocks to develop the athlete need to be built at an early age. Building basic movement patterns and motor skill development including: balance, coordination, agility, speed, kinaesthetic awareness, rhythm, strength, spatial orientation and reactions to visual and auditory stimulus. Children who have problems with these fundamental skills may have problems with physical activity later in life.

Research shows us that teaching these fundamental movement skills at specific periods of time in the young athlete’s life are important to maximise athletic ability later in life. Missing out on these fundamental movement skills can prevent an athlete achieving their full potential. This research is based on the long term athletic development model where important periods of time to develop a lot of these basic skills are led by chronological age. Jason Drabik a professor of the University School of Physical Education points out that the critical age to develop coordination is between 10-13 years of age.

A new development model in research for the young athlete also takes into consideration a child’s emotional, physical, psychological and social needs, their mental age, training age and adult development through puberty. It still shows the development of these basic motor skills are essential from birth to 8 years of age as the neurological system is very adaptable at this age for the learning of new movements. Strength training has always been a debate with children where the latest research shows that strength undermines a lot of movement skills including coordination, balance and movement and should be trained at a suitable level throughout the child’s development into adult years. In the long term athlete development model strength is trained in teen years. Strength at an early age does not mean the use of heavy weights but more with learning to control body movements dynamically with resistance exercise, it has been reported that fractures in children are more likely seen with a strength deficit. These basic skills should be trained before an athletic development program and progressed safely and efficiently through the child’s development.

Movement skills are important throughout life to enhance your sport, the prerequisites above are essential. As an adult, learning these skills will help you in your sport, but as Dr Klawans points out, that learning these fundamental skills later in life may be more difficult. The sports fitness coach when training the athlete will build on the essential elements of fitness including balance, agility, speed, power, body awareness, reactions and strength. Technique is important to imprint good movement patterns and is guided through the exercises. All these areas of fitness are trained in an integrated approach to enhance performance of the athlete.

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