Welcome to the first 2024’s Move4Sport monthly blogs, join us on the exploration of the multi-layered landscape of athletic development, where the pursuit of high performance takes center stage. We now draw our attention to the tail end of the long-term athletic development model and explore ‘Training to Compete’ as youth athletes mature and transition into competitive adult sport. 

This blog will delve into the intricacies of this transformative ‘Performance’ phase unravelling the compounding of physical development, underpinned by more advanced resistance-based training methods, alongside enhancement of technical sporting competencies. Briefly touching on the profound impact of near-full biological maturation has on training and performance. Lastly, summarising the key components that contribute to enhancing on-court performance and fostering a sustainable trajectory towards athletic excellence.  

A key focus of youth athletes when they approach this stage in their development, is improving their primary bio-motor qualities that underpin their athletic performance.

Bio-motor ability development, a sport’s need analysis and a battery of performance tests and monitoring allows us to create a puzzle of where the youth athlete is regarding their development in their sport. This way, we can find the ‘missing pieces’ that will improve their on-court/field performance. 

Young males can have to up 4-5x the level of testosterone when comparing those that have gone through full biological maturation (post-pubertal) to those that have just started puberty (pre-pubertal). (Baxter-jones et al,. 2005)

Because of the nature of biological maturity, growth spurts and so on, specific adaptations can only be achieved after a biological timeframe. An example of this is strength, strength development through pre-pubescent teenagers will be elicited through mainly neuromuscular adaptations (changes in the way the nervous system interacts with working muscles) rather than musculoskeletal adaptations (changes in the muscles, bones, and connective tissues of the body). Post-pubertal males tend to go through a sharp increase in muscular size, co-inside their peak weight velocity, which is a result of an increase in testosterone levels – the hormone that directly increase muscle mass.  

Strength Development

Athletes, and especially maturing youth athletes, need to be able to produce a lot of force quickly in a multitude of sports. Speed and strength bio-motor developments take center stage within the performance step of LTAD with improvement of what’s known as the Force-Velocity curve.  

To simply put it, the Y axis is ‘how much force is produced’, and the X axis is ‘how quick is that movement’. Every action is governed by the relationship between the speed and amount of force produced.  

The combination of the speed (velocity) at which force is produced at (force) results in a rate of force production (power). A strong correlation often exists between high-level athlete’s strength (force production) and their ability to access a high rate of force development (power) which comes as no surprise as strength is the underpinning bio-motor quality of power.  

Many sporting movements such as sprinting, jumping or change of direction all require a high level of power production in a rapid manner which is why it is vital that athletes must be able to access this ability. 

Strength is a large component of sporting actions; it underpins many explosives movements and is vital in robust and resilient athletes. Ground reaction forces can reach anywhere between 5-8 times a youth athlete’s bodyweight during competitive sport. (Kourt et al,. 2005)

It’s clear to see how a strong athlete isn’t necessarily powerful, but a powerful athlete IS a strong one.

The strength aspect of the curve can be improved through traditional resistance training such as heavy strength compounds, improving maximal force production qualities, to heavy Olympic lifts and some derivatives.  

Whereas the speed aspects of the curve can be developed through loaded jumps, slow stretch-shortening plyometrics drills up to maximal sprints and fast stretch-shortening plyometrics drills.  

Movement Development  

Furthermore, another focus at this stage is specifically on movement development with the technical execution of change of direction, sprint mechanics, sport-related movement competency (footwork) and lastly, layering all these above in combination with reactive (agility) tasks & drills providing both a greater kinesthetic understanding (awareness of the body position and movement) as well as the proprioception re-calibration previously mentioned in the last blog, due to growth and maturation changes effecting the biomechanics of some of the more technical movements. 

Moreover, movement development is still as important as not only does it help fine-tune technical movements such as sprinting mechanics and change of direction, but it can also help provide as a monitoring tool to improve the underpinning movement qualities but also relate the physical development to on-court performance, both in a physical competency and an educational manner. 

A case example of this: a single leg deceleration requires a specific level of eccentric (lengthening under tension) strength of which would be underpinned by the work completed in the programmed strength session and developed in the movement/court-based session. This way the physical ability is developed in the gym whereas the application can be developed on court.
As you can see, we can start piecing multiple puzzles together – with one being the weekly training routine – and the other puzzle being the development of on-court/field performance.

 

Summary

The Move4Sport blog for January 2024 discovered the ‘Training to Compete’ phase in long-term athletic development. We discussed how the ‘Performance’ phase emphasized how vital bio-motor ability development is, in tandem with need analysis and performance testing. Furthermore, highlighted the impact of biological maturation on strength development, discussing the increase of testosterone on physical adaptations, development of the force-Velocity curve and the importance of power production in high level performance. 

Lastly, we drew our attention to the significance of movement development, covering aspects like change of direction, sprint mechanics, and sport-related footwork – emphasizing the fundamental aspect integration of physical and on-court/field performance through a well-rounded training routine at the performance stage of the long-term athletic development model. 

 

In the Pipeline:
In next months blog we’ll be delving into strength training for dancers. Investigating the increasing demands on the dancer’s body and how strength and conditioning plays an important role in preparing the body for a career in professional dance.

Discover the world of Strength & Conditioning with us!  

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Move4Sport Team 

References

Baxter-Jones, A. D. G.; Eisenmann, J. C. & Sherar, L. B. Controlling for maturation in pediatric exercise science. Pediatr. Exerc. Sci., 17(1):18-30, 2005.

Kohrt, Wendy M. Ph.D., FACSM (Chair); Bloomfield, Susan A. Ph.D., FACSM; Little, Kathleen D. Ph.D.; Nelson, Miriam E. Ph.D., FACSM; Yingling, Vanessa R. Ph.D.. Physical Activity and Bone Health. Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise 36(11):p 1985-1996, November 2004. | DOI: 10.1249/01.MSS.0000142662.21767.58