The world’s leading sports organizations have spent decades and millions of dollars to discover the formula to build great athletes.
We’ve been in the sports profession for decades, and have helped over a million athletes. We’ve examined athlete development systems around the world. And most importantly, many of us are parents as well.
We know the awesome, positive aspects of youth sports participation. It can help athletes develop a fit lifestyle, learn to work hard and build a growth mindset.
Like you, we believe in the work ethic, attitudes, and character developed through sports training and competition. We help young athletes strive to pursue their goals. That’s everything from making the team, getting more playing time, or even becoming a professional.
We are inspired when we see an athlete or team striving to be their best. Operating at elite levels, we see the stage of international sport as a showcase for the human spirit. Our love of sport includes the process of building great athletes.
This why we love what we do! Some days though, it is hard to see good people, with the best of intentions, making mistakes developing young athletes.
We understand it is hard to know what’s best for your young athlete. What’s best for them to have success now and in the long term. There is so much conflicting information.
There’s so much pressure to win now. There are the demands of sport, life, and school that make it hard sometimes.
What does it take to create GREAT athletes?
Organizations like the US Olympic Committees, US Soccer, USA Hockey and others have a mission to develop great athletes. The world’s best. They’ve spent decades researching and testing these different methods. In international sport, it’s a race to build the best.
In youth sports today, we all know that there is tremendous pressure for an athlete to “win now” so they can make the elite team. The coach and the club are under pressure to “win now” or they risk losing their players to another team or club. Parents feel like if they don’t get their young athletes in the right place early the future opportunities will be gone.
All of this “win now” leaves little time for actually developing. Don’t get it wrong, we want the young kids to compete. We want there to be winners and losers in games. Yet, if we sacrifice developing a well-rounded athlete for winning at 10 years old, we are mortgaging their athletic future for a win today.
A great athlete in most sports starts with athleticism. Without question, there are also different key sports skills you must start early. For example; dribbling in basketball, groundstrokes in tennis, and ball touch in soccer. You need to play the sport at a young enough age to start developing this.
In an athletes’ earliest years, they might rely on this skill to stand out. It’s the sport after all! Looming underneath is a need for athleticism. It becomes important more and more as they move up in levels and competition gets tougher. As the other players also have high-level skill, then athleticism becomes another route to gain an advantage.
Does Playing Multiple Sports Help Athleticism?
If you’re not sold on it yet, let’s look at a few examples of this playing out in the real world.
Urban Meyer, a famous football coach at The Ohio State University, recruits multi-sport athletes. In fact, some reports show that a whopping 89% of his football recruits are multi-sport athletes.
image from @ohiovarsity
Let’s go wider than only football and look across all Olympic Sports. The United States Olympic Committee has done extensive research for decades on what builds a champion. They’ve looked at hundreds of Olympians and medalists to see when they specialized.
Many would expect to be an Olympian you had to specialize early and give up other sports and some times that’s true. But the data shows a different story. Olympians are arguably some of the most elite athletes on the planet. Yet, the USOC study shows they play multiple sports through their high school years!
But it’s not just about specializing in one sport; it’s about the training that often goes along with it. Developing only “sport-specific” skill, without a route to increase overall athleticism does them much more harm than good!
Our job as a Sports Performance organization is to create a better athlete, which means a well-rounded athlete.
Skipping Well Rounded Athletic Development Can Have Harmful Effects…
As coaches, we hope to create great athletes who have a chance at being successful for the long haul. To support this, our programs are based on the concepts of Long Term Athletic Development.
Just like a baby needs to follow steps in development, so does a young athlete. A baby must learn to roll over before crawling, crawl before fore walking, and walk before running. Athletes need to build a solid foundation for elite athletic performance before they can reach their full potential.
The Injury Problem
When athletes skip critical steps in building this athletic foundation, they are at a much higher risk for injury and burnout. We’ve seen it in our centers across the country and we’ve seen it in Olympic development systems around the world. Olympic Committees have contracted with us to help solve the problem of injury due in large part to overspecialization.
• In a Loyola University study of 1200 youth athletes, researchers found that early specialization was one of the strongest predictors of injury. Athletes who specialized were 70-93% more likely to be injured compared to multi-sport athletes.
Without a well rounded athletic base, missed pieces act like cracks in the foundation. They might not be a problem now, but they can lead to future problems down the line. Small cracks have a tendency to grow over time and under pressure.
The trouble is building the foundation early isn’t always sexy. And it is really hard for parents and young athletes to find the time.
Your Long Term Athlete Development System
The Long Term Athletic Development model has been developed over several decades. It’s been adopted by many successful elite organizations. The best know expert might be Dr. Istvan Balyi, a coach and sports scientist. He helped implement this model in professional tennis, with USA Hockey, in the UK to prepare for the 2012 London Olympics and through Sport Canada.
The concept is simple. There should be a long term view of developing an athlete with the highest chance of success at the elite level. To do this we need to have some outline of what they should be doing from the youngest ages all the way through their pro and Olympic career.
A Model For Developing Champions
Now don’t misunderstand, this isn’t some fluffy “they all win and there is no competition” model. It comes from elite sport and supports competition. It doesn’t support winning at the earliest ages at the expense of being a great athlete later. This document from LTAD.ca is a great summary:
From the start to finish, we progressively build an athlete’s foundation, skills, and mindset so they can reach their full potential. But we know every athlete doesn’t have the potential to succeed in a Gold Medal in every sport.
So doesn’t that make this a waste for most athletes?
NO. Because it helps athletes reach their best potential. Because an athletic foundation of fundamental movement and sports skills improves the likelihood and opportunity to participate in sports and fitness life long.
This balance of elite development and sports participation is why so many sports organizations have adopted this model. These examples help show how Sport Canada and USA Hockey are applying it to their systems;
Since 1999 the Velocity model has incorporated the LTAD concepts and has evolved with continued research and experience with over 1 million athletes. We think about athletic development as a pyramid and if we are going to build this pyramid to great heights we need a broad and comprehensive base.
By building a broad base of athletic skill and movement we create a foundation. An athletic movement foundation that they can build on and without wide cracks. This way a young athlete has more movement skills and physical resources to draw from. Then they have more opportunity to find their best position or sport as they get older.
Just go back to that USOC graphic about how many sports Olympic athletes played. They had the athleticism to pick the one that they could excel at, in part because they had a broad athletic base.
How Can a Parent Help a Young Athlete in Todays Sports Environment?
As we know, the demands of time, year-round participation and advancing technical level make it hard for young athletes and their parents. You don’t want your kids to fall behind because they took the time to play another sport or training. You fear they won’t be on the right team or have the opportunity later.
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It’s a real concern and as parents, one many of us have felt as well.
Sport coaches can be as frustrated. They fell pressure to focus on skill development. So often they cant incorporate the overall athletic development they might want as well. They only have a few hours a week and parents bring a lot of pressure to succeed now.
But we have insider knowledge. You can do both. While our young athletes in the US are playing club and school sports, they can still develop as athletes.
Through the year they can just continue to develop athleticism. Not just sport skills. Not only sports training, just general, all-around athleticism. For our youngest athletes, this means as little as 2 hours a week that builds fundamentals.
Then as they enter middle school and high school training becomes more focused on strength, speed, power, and fitness. Just 2 – 4 hours a week adds to their athletic foundation and develops movement patterns beyond their specific sport.
During some parts of the year, they can increase the time spent on developing these qualities. If they want to be their best and can spare 2-4 days a week, they can do more to reach their full athletic potential.
Developing Athletes Is About AND, Not OR.
We hope parents understand; it’s not a question of sport-specific skill OR overall athleticism. It’s a matter of AND. You can develop your sports skills, compete AND keep becoming a well-rounded athlete.
Our experience in elite sports and youth sports confirms this view. We’ve seen what works and building better athletes in key in our belief.