Girls aged 15-18 and boys aged 16-18 fall into the Learn to Compete stage. It is designed to prepare athletes for the high-competitive environment, help them continue to refine technical skills, and continue to develop critical physical attributes. According to the American Development Model, all the objectives of Stage IV must be achieved before the Learn to Compete Stage can begin, but most coaches and parents reading this will find that the current structure of sporting in America favors high volumes of competition over skill learning and physical robustness, and the amount of time spent travelling, competing, and specializing for one sport will dwarf the amount of time spent preparing. We are constrained by that structure, particularly in high school sports, where some kids may be forced into this stage as freshmen, but parents can exert more control over this at the club level by limiting exposure to travelling and ‘elite’ teams until this Stage IV is mastered. Stage V is the time to optimize fitness preparation and skills and begin to specialize in one sport.
During this period it’s time to really emphasize individuality in training to meet the athlete’s particular needs in skill development, mental preparation, fitness and recovery. During this stage, training volume and intensity will both increase, and competitions and tournaments become more important as the focus shifts to performance. Athletes improve preparation for competition, and learn to handle competitive pressures in any situation. The training season is longer, and event-specific. This is the time to consolidate individual strengths and rectify weaknesses.
Boys early in this stage are still in the window for optimization of speed and quickness and will hit their strength window around 12-18 months after they reach peak height velocity. The windows for optimization for girls have mostly closed by Stage V, but continued development of speed and strength is still possible and will provide huge dividends in performance and injury prevention. Strength training remains less popular for girls than it does for boys and therefore represents an opportunity for a huge competitive advantage.
By Stage 5 the athlete should have well-developed mental preparation skills, and should continue to refine these routines to allow them to perform on demand. Training in mental preparation will help the them cope with the stresses associated with training, tournaments and selection, and will contribute to their development as competitors. As they transition towards early-adulthood and seek more independence, they should be included in decision-making process and contribute when setting training goals and priorities.
As mentioned before, the development of the ADM was directed by USA Hockey. Because they have the goal of generating and maintaining love for the sport as well as developing players that can succeed against international competition, they have two “Tracks”, with different levels of commitment required of the athletes. I have included those below to show how much emphasis should be placed on the primary sport. It’s important to note that both of these are considered ‘specialization’ tracks for athletes realistically anticipating collegiate or professional careers. The High performance track should be reserved for those who are getting significant playing time while competing in a high stress, low margin, competitive environment. Additionally, the should be early developers that have strictly completed the prior stages in order, with appropriate ratios of the volume of skill training, competition, and fitness training.
Note that the session length for practices is significantly less than what normally occurs at many high schools. This is probably not be something that can be easily managed. The best solution is probably to reduce the amount of months played in the training year. For example, in the Standard Track the athletes have primary sport practice 3-6 hours per week for up to 7 months. Most high school sports require at least 10 hours a week of practice; more for sports that compete frequently, such as football. In this situation, it will likely be beneficial to significantly reduce participation in that same sport in the offseason to account for the doubling of the recommended volume in-season.
Training/Competition Ratio: 50% training, 20% competition specific training, and 30%
Training Volume: 3 to 4 times hockey per week, with session length of 60 to 90
minutes at 18 & Under. Training volume can be reduced for recreational players based on the commitment level of the players involved.
Speed, Strength and Conditioning: three times per week.
Training Year: 4 weeks/month, 7 month/year
Overall activity ratios: 50% hockey, 40% fitness, 10% other sports
Complimentary Sports: Athletes are encouraged to participate in 1 complimentary
High Performance Track
Training/Competition Ratio: 50% training, 10% competition specific training, and 40%
Training Volume: 5 to 6 times hockey per week, with session length of 60 to 90
minutes at 18 & Under level.
4 to 6 speed, strength and conditioning sessions per week
Training Year: 4 weeks/month, 9-10 month/year
Overall activity ratios: 60% hockey, 40% speed, strength and conditioning
Complimentary Sports: Athletes are encouraged to participate in outside sporting
Recreation, rather than additional competitive sports
Coaches must plan with regard to training volume and intensity taking into
consideration competition and rest and recovery. Preparation must be detailed and well communicated. Players should be able to identify their role and responsibilities on the team and be held accountable to them. On and Off ice (or field, or court) decision-making skills are of a high priority during this stage. Players must be able to transfer the decisions made in practice to competition. Emphasis on speed of execution and on off-ice (field, court) training
Ensure that key support systems (fitness monitoring, recovery and regeneration,
psychology, nutrition and health needs) are in place and integrated with the training
Regular, year-round speed, strength and conditioning. Athletes should refine and individualize their own ancillary capacities
That’s it! Stages 6-7 are reserved specifically for those athletes playing at the collegiate and professional/international level, and Stage 8 is the “Sport for Life” stage, for those athletes that have retired and play exclusively for enjoyment.
Much of the space I’ve covered in this series addresses two general themes. Those whose livelihoods depend on developing the best athletes in a specific sport from a huge pool of young kids have identified that the best way to do it is to create athletes first, and players of that specific sport second. One more non-specialization story from Mike Boyle, one of my mentors and my strength coach when I was wrestling at BU: It’s from hockey, but the lesson can be applied to any field or court sport. In the early 90’s, Hall of Fame hockey coach Jack Parker was considering an athlete for their perennially excellent team, but was unsure because his hockey skills were not the best among the players he was looking at. Mike pointed out that this person was a three-year starter at quarterback for St. John’s Prep (a New England football powerhouse) and didn’t play hockey other than during the high school season. Coach Parker agreed, and the player was awarded a scholarship. John McCarthy ended up as the captain of the 2009 National Championship team and ended up playing professionally for 8 years, including 80 games in the NHL. It is athleticism that makes the great ones.