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Guest Blog: The importance of Physical Development for the Developing Talented Athlete

Kevin Till is a Senior Lecturer in Sports Coaching at Leeds Beckett University, having previously worked as Head of Strength and Conditioning for Castleford Tigers in the Super League. Kevin also works with Leeds Rhinos and Yorkshire Carnegie to support the development of their pathway players.

A lot of information exists on the development of talented athletes from a range of disciplines within coaching and sport science. Coaches are expected to understand, plan, deliver and reflect upon their practices within an increasing range of areas including technical, tactical, physical, psychological and social development. However, all these things make the coach’s job challenging, often resulting in coaches potentially ‘missing’ some important aspects of the athlete development journey. This blog is aims to highlight the importance of physical development when developing talented athletes and help coaches think about how they can start to plan and deliver for physical development more effectively in their coaching practice.

Physical development includes the anthropometric (e.g. body size) and physiological (e.g. strength, speed, endurance) development of the athlete. Many studies provide evidence for the important physical qualities for specific sports and these characteristics are usually differentiated between playing standard (i.e. higher standard = higher physiological capacity). A recent review article (Rees et al., 2016) summarising the current knowledge on the world’s best sporting talent, stated that the quality of evidence to show that anthropometric and physiological factors contribute to the super-elite performance, is high. Therefore, anyone working with developing talented athletes needs to consider the importance of physical factors within the long-term development of athletes, with the potential to achieve elite athlete status.

Whilst sport specific physical qualities can be considered by coaches, developing a generic physical base is important for all athletes in terms of performance and wider health factors such as injury prevention. Recent publications (e.g. Lloyd & Oliver, 2012; Lloyd et al., 2016) have provided recommendations and guidelines for the physical development of youth athletes.

These recommendations focus on the fundamental movement skills (e.g. locomotor, stability and object control), sport-specific skills, mobility, agility, speed, power, strength, hypertrophy, endurance and metabolic conditioning with an emphasis placed on certain qualities at particular ages and stages of development. For example, within developing talented athletes aged between 12 and 16 years of age, Agility, Speed, Power, Strength and Hypertrophy are the recommended focus areas for physical development. It is important to understand that physical development is based upon a foundation of fundamental movement skill and mobility development and this should be prioritised if athletes do not have those pre-requisites when joining your programme. The body must be built on strong foundations.

So how can you as a coach start to implement them into your coaching practice? Consider using the warm up to implement a range of physical qualities. Utilising the RAMP warm up (Jeffreys, 2010) acronym provides a format to implement physical qualities within a coaching session:

R = Raise – Locomotor based activities (e.g. Running Mechanics)
A = Activate (‘the muscles’)
M = Mobilise (‘the joints’) – To include stability, strength and mobility based activities
P = Potentiate (increase the intensity of an activity) – Include speed, agility and power related activities.

Within a 20 minute warm up, a range of physical development qualities can be incorporated to enhance the physical development of your athletes. As an example, the use of sport specific drills or small sided games can enhance the aerobic and anaerobic qualities of athletes. By implementing interval based activities where athletes work at a high intensity combined with skill and decision making elements can have a positive aspect on physical development (and decision making, technical skills, tactical understanding and mental capacity under fatigue and pressure). Small sided games can be manipulated by pitch size, number of athletes, game rules and coach interaction to increase the physical demands and challenges of the games.

Although physical development is important, one aspect highlighted by Rees et al., (2016) during the adolescent period was the influence of biological maturation status upon physical development. Biological maturation is the timing and tempo of progress towards the mature adult state and the timing and tempo of this process can vary considerably between girls aged 11 to 15 years and boys aged 12 to 16 years. It shows the impact that maturation status can have upon selection opportunities due to maturation status being highly related to physical development during adolescence (Till et al., 2013). Therefore, coaches need to consider biological maturation of their athletes when (or even if) assessing physical performance during adolescence and consider this within their training practices.

In summary, physical development of the developing talented athletes is a key consideration towards the holistic development of an athlete in reaching the elite status. Coaches and sports science practitioners should consider the general and sport specific physical qualities required for development within their sports and look to plan and deliver multiple opportunities for physical development within their training sessions through the use of warm ups, activity breaks and small sided games. Finally, maturation status of the developing talented athlete should be considered when identifying and selecting athletes and development practices.

References

  • Jeffreys, I. (2007) Warm-up revisited: The ramp method of optimizing warm-ups. Professional Strength and Conditioning, 6, 12-18
  • Lloyd, R., & Oliver, J. (2012) The Youth Physical Development Model: A New Approach to Long-Term Athletic Development. Strength and Conditioning Journal, 34(3), 61-72.
  • Lloyd R., et al. (2015) Long-term Athletic Development – Part 1: A Pathway for All. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 29(5), 1439-1450
  • Rees, T., et al. (2016) The Great British Medallists Project: A Review of Current Knowledge on the Development of the World’s Best Sporting Talent. Sports Medicine, 46(8), 1041-1058.
  • Till, K., et al. (2014) Considering maturation and relative age in the longitudinal evaluation of junior rugby league players. Scandinavian Journal of Science and Medicine in Sport, 24, 569-576.  

Kevin Till, Senior Lecturer in Sports Coaching, Leeds Beckett University

Follow: @ktconditioning