3 Keys to Success from Bruce Kelly
July 17, 2017
Measuring Matters
July 31, 2017

Learn To Train: Stage 3 of The American Developmental Model

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We’ll be continuing our series today reviewing the American Developmental Model, which is a Long Term Athletic Training and Development program created by USA Hockey and licensed to the US Olympic Committee to ensure long-term enthusiasm for sport, reduced injury and burnout, and maximal athletic performance.  Stage Three has been termed the “Learn to Train” stage, and typically applies to females ages 8-11 and males 9-12.  The objective of the Learn to Train stage is to refine overall sport skills and develop sports specific skills.  This is the period of accelerated learning of coordination and fine motor control and is the critical stage for the acquisition of sport skills.  In the last post we talked about certain windows of opportunity, where the child is more sensitive to specific stimuli, improving their response to certain types of training.   In this stage participants are developmentally ready to acquire the sports skills that are the cornerstones of athletic  development.



Recall that in late specialization sports such as baseball, soccer or hockey, early specialization is detrimental to later stages of skill development and refinement of the fundamental sports skills. Keeping that in mind, during this phase participants should develop a solid base in a variety of sports in each of the physical literacy environments (e.g. swimming, field/court sports, gymnastics & skiing/ skating).  According to the model, this is when club to club competitions should be introduced.  This is much later than what is typically seen, and even then,the competitions themselves should not be the main focus of the program. Instead, the key focus for this stage is to continue to develop physical literacy and learn sport specific skills.    Athletes should continue to participate in 3-4 different sports, and probably should not be specializing in a certain position in those sports.

Children in this stage are often beginning their growth spurt. Coaches and parents should perform and record monthly height measurements to provide an indicator for the onset of peak height velocity (PVH). Once that is reached, a new window of opportunity opens and athletes transition to Phase 4.  During both phases, flexibility should be monitored, since the growth spurt, which will last 18-24 months, will likely result in a relative loss of flexibility.



Phases 3 and 4 are the most important stages in athletic  preparation. During these stages we make or break an athlete.   The ‘Sports skills’ window of trainability is open during the entire phase, as well as another opportunity to develop additional speed in girls aged 11-13.  It’s also the beginning of window for aerobic ‘stamina’ (girls 11-14, boys 12+) but I would argue that any aerobic training be limited to avoid hindering speed development and to be achieved through small area/small sided games in order to maintain enthusiasm through playing.  Below is a good format for sports practice during this phase:


Early in the stage, 10 & Under, introduce general fitness framework
1. Warm-up

2. Rhythm and coordination runs Spatial awareness (jump distance with changes in direction)

3. Concepts of Rest and recovery (fuel breaks, meals, sleep)

4. Reaction time, agility/change of direction, speed drills, typically lasting less than 6 seconds

5. Speed

5. Focus on skill and execution

6. Develop strength – using exercises that incorporate the player’s own body weight, as well as medicine balls and Swiss balls

7. Cool down with short stretch because of rapid growth of bones and soft tissues

Later in stage, with 11-12 year-olds, add the following

8. Specialized speed work

9. Explosive strength in upper and low body through jumping and medicine ball exercises

10. Develop general lower body and core stability

11. An increase in the amount of stretching at the end of training



Psychological Development:
Coaches and parents should provide opportunities for the participant to try activities that focus on fun, pleasure and socialization to look for those that ignite their interest.  Kids should be introduced to goal setting, and the goals should be process oriented, rather than outcome oriented, ie, ‘my goal is to do jump training 10 times per month and make a play on every rebounded ball’ rather than ‘my goal is to lead our team in rebounds’.   Both long-term goals that allow the child to dream big, as well as short-term goals based on skill development  (instead of competitive results).  During this time, coaches and parents should be teaching the concepts of team unity as they learn how to relate to different groups of peers.  Some of the important psychological skills to develop include the ability to concentrate and visualize; the concept of  Deliberate Effort:  the ability to deliver effort and enjoy the feeling of hard work towards a defined end;  responsibility; and the ability to take risk and accept situational failure as a normal occurrence of sport. This is also the stage that it is appropriate to begin to introduce mental preparation.

Training and Competitive Environment:
Formal competition can be introduced in this stage, although it must not divert the focus from training.  There should be an approximately 3:1 practice to game ratio to maintain focus on skill development and contribute to long term success.  Total volume of any given sport should not exceed 3-4 times per week, with a session length of no more than 60 minutes.  Competitions should be local only to maximize the amount of time that can be spent practicing and playing, and minimize the stresses of travel and burnout. Competition should be fun, and structured to address differences in training age and abilities. Athletes should be recognized for their success and achievement. Training should include small area games to encourage the application of skill techniques in game play. Small area games help develop player’s decision making abilities.

The amount of time participating in any single sport at this age should be no more than 28 weeks; splitting this up into two 10-16 week periods will help maintain player interest.  During the year, there should be no more than 90 practices or competitions for any given sport.  Coaches and parents must be cognizant that this is the critical stage for sports skill acquisition and should be able to provide quality skill demonstrations as this creates a mental picture for the athletes to emulate.   Players must practice a high volume of skills and agility training at a reduced intensity in order to achieve successful repetitions.  As the success rate increases, intensity can increase, however, coaches must understand that performing skills incorrectly at a high rate of speed will only reinforce poor skills through this stage.  Skill acquisition is reduced as the fatigue level increases.  

As in all of the early stages (and often in the later ones!)  it is important to create an environment where participants want to play sports. Practices must be varied, interesting and fun so they will want to continue. The next phase, the Train to Train stage, begins  around the time the athletes enter middle school.  Again, be sure to measure the athlete’s height monthly, as once peak height velocity is reached, typically around 12 years old for girls and 14 years old for boys, additional windows of sensitivity to training for strength and speed open up.


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