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UK Coaching Participation Team
Children Young people Improving Physical Ability

Male and Female Youth Physical Development Model

This contemporary model is based on evidence that shows that youth participants are responsive to training throughout childhood and adolescence, meaning coaches really can make a difference at all stages of development

Fundamental movement skills (FMS) are prioritised from an early age. This is because rapid development of the central nervous system during this period promotes the development and learning of motor skills. It is believed children will learn skills more easily at younger ages.

Mastery of FMS allows children to progress to the development of sports specific skills (SSS). Where FMS are not mastered, this can lead to a proficiency barrier, preventing children from learning more advanced skills.

The simultaneous development of FMS and strength allows children to demonstrate controlled movements, and underpins all other forms of exercise.

Note: The male model reflects the fact that boys mature later than girls. Similarly, the female model reflects the early physical maturation of girls.

FMS = fundamental movement skills   SSS = sport-specific skills   MC = metabolic conditioning

Light blocks = pre-adolescent periods of adaptation

Dark blocks = adolescent periods of adaptation 

The larger the font size, the more important and responsive to training a physical quality is during the corresponding stage of development.

Development stages and training types

To greater understand the terminology of the Youth Physical Development Model ,we will first delve into the explanations for the development stages and training types from the left-hand column.

Perhaps the most familiar terminology used in the Youth Physical Development Model is chronological age. Quite simply this is how old the child is. Traditionally this has been the most common way of assessing a child’s development stage, however, this can be a flawed measure given that children the same age can be at very different stages of development.

We call this the Relative Age Effect. There is also a gender difference in chronological age, where females will usually reach puberty at a younger age then their male counterparts.

Due to the limitations of assessing development stage through chronological age alone, the model recommends assessing a child’s maturational status, in terms of pre-pubescence, puberty and post-pubertal stages.

In the model, lighter shaded areas identify pre-adolescence and darker shading is the adolescent stage, where we would expect to see a child’s fastest rate of growth, often referred to as Peak Height Velocity.

By using maturational status alongside chronological age as a guide to a child’s development stage, a coach will be able to tailor the correct training of physical qualities for each individual child using the Youth Physical Development Model.

Training adaptation refers to the type of adaptations that will take place in a child.  In the pre-adolescent stage we would expect this to be largely neural.  However, from the adolescent stage, adaptions will begin to be both neural and hormonal.

The physical qualities section is the most important aspect of the model as this is where coaches can understand which physical qualities to focus the development of, and when. This will be covered in detail in the next section.

At the younger stages of development, training should be mostly unstructured and formed around play. As with all children’s coaching, the model recommends that training structure should become more structured in nature as a child develops. 

Which physical qualities should be trained and when?

In the Youth Physical Development Model, you will notice that some text in the Physical Qualities section is larger than other text. This variance in text size is important for coaches as it explains what type of training should be prioritised and when. The larger the font size, the more important and responsive to training a physical quality is during the corresponding stage of development. 

To put this simply, larger text means coaches should be focusing their training more heavily on developing those physical qualities with children at the respective stage of development.

Fundamental Movement Skills (FMS) are prioritised from an early age within the model and become less of a focus once these have been mastered, where the focus switches to Sport Specific Skills (SSS). This is because rapid development of the central nervous system during this period promotes the development and learning of motor skills. It is believed children will learn skills more easily at younger ages. 

Mastery of FMS allows children to progress to the development of SSS. Where FMS are not mastered, this can lead to a proficiency barrier, preventing children from learning more advanced skills. The simultaneous development of FMS and strength allows children to demonstrate controlled movements, and underpins all other forms of exercise.

Coaches working with all age groups should continue to incorporate some FMS training into their sessions however, as maintenance and catch-up for those who missed crucial elements of their development remain key factors in sporting participation, confidence, and success. Even the top elite coaches will retain some element of FMS in their training.

Examples of FMS that coaches should look to develop with children are:

  • Locomotion: walking, running, bounding, hopping, leaping, jumping, rolling, galloping, climbing, sliding, skipping.
  • Manipulation: catching, pushing, pulling, dribbling, carrying, bouncing, trapping, throwing, kicking, striking, collecting.
  • Stabilisation: turning, twisting, bending, landing, stretching, extending, flexing, hanging, bracing, rotation, tucking.

Mastery of these skills is not just the ability to perform a given movement, but the ability to perform the movement in a proficient and controlled manner, often at speed.

You can begin by isolating movements to facilitate mastery of simple skills. The long-term goal is to progress learning so children can link movement skills and simultaneously combine multiple skills.

Sport Specific Skills

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

Coaches should not expect children to be proficient in producing sport-specific movements before they have mastered FMS. For this reason, the model regards SSS as being of less importance during the earlier stages of development, then growing in importance from the onset of puberty.

For this reason, coaches who move onto SSS before children have mastered their FMS could be harming a child’s sporting and physical development.

Whilst the Youth Physical Development Model (YPDM) does not prioritise mobility as the main emphasis of training at any one stage of development, it is considered an important element throughout a child’s development to ensure children and young adults are able to ensure a sufficient range of motion.

If there is to be considered a key time for mobility development, then it is in the lighter-shaded pre-adolescent phase which has been highlighted as a key time for mobility training in previous research. After this point, maintenance of the acquired levels of mobility should be the focus for both adolescents and adults.

Agility can be defined as the ability to change direction, often at speed, in response to a given stimulus. The YPDM suggests that agility should be targeted during both the pre-pubescent period and the adolescent stage of development.

One of the challenges coaches face during adolescent agility training is the greater limb length that children develop, which can lead to a decrease in motor-control performance. Coaches may therefore need to focus on re-perfecting certain movement patterns at this stage of development.

Speed is regarded as a priority for development during the pre-adolescent and adolescent periods. From a coaching perspective, research suggests that when coaching pre-pubescent children on their speed development, it should focus on plyometrics, technical competency and sprint work with a view to developing existing physical qualities, whereas adolescents should focus more on strength training, plyometrics, and sprint training, to maximize overall speed gains.

The YPDM suggests that the key period for power development begins with the onset of adolescence and continues into adulthood. Despite this, research has suggested that power development in childhood is trainable, though results may vary greatly.

Previous research has also stated that the need to specialise in ‘power’ sports is not required until the age of 17 onwards and specialisation in power sports and events before this point can actually have detrimental effects on health and career longevity in performance athletes.

The first thing we need to say about strength training is that it is now accepted that children can safely and effectively participate in strength training when it is prescribed and supervised by appropriately qualified and skilled coaches.

Previous models had suggested that a period after Peak Height Velocity was key for strength training, but limiting strength training to this period in children is now seen to be unnecessary and indeed likely to limit a child’s development. Children can achieve training-induced improvements in muscular strength at all ages.

The YPDM recommends the inclusion of strength training as a priority for all stages of developments for both males and females. The primary reason for this recommendation is the research link between muscular strength and running speed, muscular power, agility, plyometric ability and endurance. We also now believe that muscular strength plays a crucial role in the development of FMS, with research suggesting that strength could contribute up to 70% of the variability in a range skills, including running, jumping and throwing. The fact that strength contributes heavily to so many other physical qualities, including FMS acquisition, means coaches should see this component as an ongoing priority.

Another area of childhood strength training that is often overlooked is its ability to reduce the risk of sports-related injury. High levels of aerobic fitness and low levels of muscular strength are reported to heighten the risk of fractures in children involved in sports programmes, whilst another research paper suggests that 50% of overuse injuries could be preventable in part with appropriately delivered and supervised strength training. Strength training in children should therefore be seen as a prevention and not a cure.

Much strength training with children will focus specifically on their ability to perform and control bodyweight-only exercises, many of which can form the basis of a programme to develop and maintain fundamental movement skills. Using the YPDM as their rationale, coaches should replace other forms of training such as endurance or SSS development sessions with children, in favour of strength training. 

Research suggests that this would be particularly beneficial in UK Primary Schools, where cardiovascular endurance is regularly prioritised over more important elements of physical development, such as strength, which has seen diminished levels reported over the past decade. 

Strength training for females is also worthy of particular note. The greater risk of osteoporosis in females is well known, but other conditions that are more prevalent in females include:

  • increased knee valgus angle
  • quadriceps dominant landing strategies
  • increased fat mass
  • increased joint laxity.

The availability of regular strength training is a key factor in the prevention of these conditions that should not be underestimated.   

Hypertrophy is the term used for gains in muscle size. The model expects that training for hypertrophy should begin from approximately 14 years in males and 12 years in females, typically after Peak Height Velocity, a time when an abundance of hormones that lead to growth are available.

The lack of these naturally produced chemical components in the body like testosterone before adolescence means training for hypertrophy is considered to be of little value in pre-adolescence.

Endurance and Metabolic Conditioning (EMC) training is exercise that aims to improve the ability of the muscle to use aerobic and/or anaerobic energy and resist fatigue.

What is important to note about this form of training is that it remains highly trainable into adulthood, and children will usually gain sufficient EMC training from other forms of activity and training they will be involved in with coaches who follow the model. For this reason, EMC training is not prioritised until the later stages of development with males and not at all in the female model. 

Moving away from a coaching focus on these physical qualities in childhood frees up coaching time to prioritise other physical qualities that are given a higher status in the model than previous research suggests, such as strength. This is one of the key areas where the YPDM moves us away from much current thinking and coaching practice.

Hopefully by looking at each competent of the Youth Physical development Model you now have a greater understanding of how the model can be shaped for each individual child, regardless of development stage or gender, to help their individual; physical development through spot and physical activity.

You should be able to adapt this key information into your coaching practice to help every child develop. And always remember: children are not miniature adults and should not be coached as such.

You have a vital role to play in a child’s development. Embrace this, consider a long-term approach, and watch as the children you support develop over time.

Learn More

To gain a full understanding of how to include fundamental movement skills in your coaching sessions attend the UK Coaching workshop 'How to Coach the Fundamentals of Movement'.

Attend the Workshop Today!

Related Resources

  • Key Movement Cue Cards

  • Youth Physical Development Model

  • Encouraging Fundamental Movement Skills


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UK Coaching Participation Team