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The Athlete Development Model

In a previous post we talked about the importance of being physically active from a young age and the impact it has later in life. From better health and lower health costs, to better grades and a greater likelihood of going to college.

If the goal is to have physically active children that grow into physically active adults, then we better have a plan that promotes lifetime physical activity, not discourage it. From a performance coach’s perspective, we need a model that allows the athlete (child) to learn, grow, develop, and perform while maintaining the health and safety of the athlete.

An excellent example of a long-term athlete development model (ADM) is the one created by the United States Olympic Committee (USOC). The USOC ADM is a 5-stage, long-term model that emphasizes fun, learning and development.

Stage 1 is focused on developing basic motor skills. Discovering new sports/activities, learning the rules and sport techniques, and participating in free, open play. Allowing the child to learn, fail, learn, develop without the pressures of competition or statistics.

Stage 2 is where the athlete begins to develop more sport related skills and challenge themselves through competition. In this stage the training and play is more structured, with focus more on the physical, psychological, technical, and tactical skills needed to compete.

Stage 3 the athlete begins to train and compete more consistently in order to maximize his or her potential. The commitment at this stage is greater and the athlete understands what needs to be done to compete. Training at this stage becomes more specific to the sports demands. However, it should be noted that in Stage 3 multiple sport participation is still promoted to allows cross-training and overall motor skill development.

Stage 4 is where the big decisions get made. This is where the athlete will decide whether they want to continue in the sport for reasons of high performance and increased competition, or to continue competing for other reasons like enjoyment, socialization, or health. No matter the decision, the athlete still deserves support and resources.

If the athlete decides to compete and train for high performance, then his/her commitment is increased. Full-year training plans designed to maximize potential. While in season for a specific sport, training is only focused on that sport. Competitions are designed to push the athlete and challenge their performance development.

If an athlete decides to participate in sport for the fun, social, and/or health aspects, then training is less singularly focused, and competitions should be focused on challenging the athlete while maintaining a loose, fun environment. Development at this stage is for personal achievement. Training and competition are structured and constant, however the athletes is focused on the enjoyment of playing, rather than advancement or statistics.

Finally, stage 5 is when athletes give back. Similar to the physically active child cycle in the previous blog, this is where the athlete gives back. With the athlete having gone through the ADM successfully, they are more likely to pass on those good experiences to the younger athletes. This ensures that the next generation of athletes enjoy the development process. It should also be noted, that stage 5 is not retirement. Athletes can still compete, train, and develop their physical, mental, and social skills.

One thing that stands out to me about the USOC ADM is the focus of fun and enjoyment of sport. Yes, as we progress within a sport training, development, and competition are going to become more intense and focused. However, one aspect we should never lose sight of is the enjoyment of the sports, activity, or process.

Following an athletic development model like the USOC’s allows athletes to develop and grow as athletes and people. Whether or not a child becomes a professional athlete is not the end game. The goal is to provide children with the skills to enjoy activity throughout their life, not despise the sport(s) when they are done competing.



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