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This blog may sacrifice short-term performance success

There we go, I said it!  This blog may indeed sacrifice short-term performance success!  But it will more than make up for that in long term development, performance, well-being, injury prevention and participation.  So what is most important to you when coaching or teaching children or when you watch your own children play?

Many models of child development through sport have been developed through the years, perhaps the most famous being the long-term athlete development model (LTAD).  This was a model that sports coach UK adopted quite a few years ago but moved away from about 5 years ago.  Research in this area has now moved away from the concept of ‘critical windows of training opportunity’ in a child’s developmental years and towards the concept that all aspects of training can be developed during a child’s development, but identifies key periods where one or more elements should take priority.

At sports coach UK we have taken the principles of that research to help develop our new ‘How to Coach the Fundamentals of Movement’ workshop.  This workshop replaces our FUNdamentals of Movement Suite of workshops and is a highly practically based workshop, that will show coaches how to coach the fundamental shapes and movements that should underpin a child’s development in sport…and indeed help coaches working with older young people and adults to maintain these fundamental movement skills or to develop these skills in young people or adults when they were not developed in the pre-adolescent stage.  When that is the case, this lack of sound fundamental movement skills can often lead to a lack of confidence and competence or even injury.  All of will of course have an adverse effect on participation and wellbeing.

If you’re thinking about which sports and activities this will benefit, the answer is very clear on this.  All of them! The idea of the fundamentals shapes and movements we want children to be able to achieve is just that, they’re fundamental and will help with the development of sport specific skills.  You can skip straight onto sport specific skills, but this will have a long-term detrimental effect on a child’s physical development if safe, competent and confinement fundamental movement skills are not already in place and maintained (athletes I coach still perform many of these movements as part of their dynamic warm up every session).

In the diagram in this blog I have used the Female Youth Physical Development Model (YPDM).  The male version is also available and reflects the fact boys usual develop into adolescence later than their female counterparts. In the model the lighter shading refers to pre-adolescence and the darker shading adolescence, whilst the larger text sizes indicate a period in which that aspect of training should be prioritised over other types of training in smaller text.  However the key point is that all aspects can be developed to some extent, throughout a child’s development. 

Fundamentals of movement

FMS= Fundamental Movement Skills - basic motor skills that should be mastered during childhood and which can be classified as locomotion, manipulation and stabilisation skills. Mastery of these skills is needed to allow development of more complex skills.

SSS = Sport Specific Skills - more advanced motor skills that are needed to engage in sporting activities.

MC = Metabolic Conditioning - exercise that aims to improve the ability of the muscle to use aerobic and/or anaerobic energy and resist fatigue.

The work of Lloyd and Oliver offers a strong evidence based rationale as to why each training aspect should be focused upon, or not, at each specific stage.  However in this blog I am will focus specifically on Fundamental Movement Skills and the relationship to Sport Specific Skills.  Every other summer, following the England men’s team’s departure from a major tournament I see articles and opinion pieces on why children need to be specialising in their football skills at 8 and not 6 (numbers chosen arbitrarily in this case).  Many of you reading this will know this to be nonsense, but the myth still lives.  Fundamental Movement Skills should be viewed predominately as the underpinning skills and movements that allow children to develop physiological and psychological health benefits during their development and which lead to greater task mastery through development years.  These skills lead to increased enjoyment, perceived competence, satisfaction and an understanding that effort leads to success.  It would be remiss of me not to use that opportunity to signpost to Carol Dweck’s work around the praise of effort over attainment in children.

One aspect of the YPDM that I know some coaches will find highly challenging is that at no point does endurance and metabolic conditioning become the primary focus of training.  For many coaches of many sports this could require a fundamental shift in the mind-set of their approach to coaching children, however the research tells us that for the vast majority of development, other training aspects should form the greater priority in a training programme.  High-levels of aerobic fitness, combined with low levels of muscular strength actually heighten the risk of a child becoming injured, whilst for most children’s sport remarkable levels of endurance should not be required and remains highly trainable into adult years again leading to its de-prioritisation in childhood.

Another myth that still pervades is the concept that strength training is developmentally inappropriate prior to adolescence.  In fact the YPDM suggests that strength development remains key throughout all phases of development and could lead to a 50% reduction in overuse injuries within youth sport.  Of course, as with all training, strength training should be safe, enjoyable and led by appropriately trained coaches.  But strength training with children is a blog of its own for another day…

To conclude I go back to the point I made in the title and the beginning of this blog…if your sole focus as a coach, teacher or as a parent is to ensure that an under 11s  team wins every match, our approach to the fundamentals of movement may not be for you.  However I’m certain the majority of coaches, parents, sports and clubs want children to prioritise appropriate development, health, participation, enjoyment and offering them the best possible opportunity to excel in a range of sports through their pre and post-adolescent and adult years.  This philosophy also helps children to develop intrinsic motivation for participation in sport, which is a strong predictor of wellbeing.  sports coach UK’s new ‘‘How to Coach the Fundamentals of Movement’ workshop will allow coaches to understand, explore and even practice how to deliver and perform the fundamental movement skills we feel are so important to a child’s physical development.

For help with the development of this blog I’d like to thank my sports coach UK colleague Jon Woodward and also the research and efforts of Dr Rhodri Lloyd and Jon Oliver of Cardiff Metropolitan University and their paper on ‘The Youth Physical Development Model’ which this blog leans heavily on, and our new ‘How to Coach the Fundamentals of Movement’ workshop.