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  • Josh Gray

The Foundational Phases of Long Term Athletic Development

In my last article, I discussed some of the issues currently plaguing our youth sports system. T

his article will be the beginning of a series offering practical advice for building athletes using the Long-Term Athletic Development Model. I will first list some background information, then I will address the first two foundational phases. I hope you enjoy!

The most important goal (or at least it should be) of a youth sports coach is to make sure each season is so positive and fun that the kids will want to play another season. This is the first step in developing a high-level athlete, as long-term success in sports usually requires high levels of interest by the athlete and many years of participation.

The next step is to develop motor skill proficiency or physical literacy. Physical literacy is defined as the “mastering of fundamental movement skills and fundamental sports skills that allow a child to read their environment and make the appropriate decisions”. Physical literacy is the foundation for continued participation in sports as well as physical activity later in life. If fundamental motor skill proficiency is not developed by 8 years old, it will limit the athlete from ever reaching their true potential. It is imperative that coaches teach fundamental movement skills first, before introducing sport specific skills. So now that we have this background information, I will begin discussing the long-term athletic development model.

The first phase of this model is called “Active Start” and takes place from birth to six years old. This is a time where children develop fundamental skills and link them together through play. Active play (physical activity) helps strengthen signals between the brain and muscles and should be unstructured with access to a wide variety of colorful toys and equipment. During this phase, children should get 180 minutes of physical activity a day, participating in activities that develop locomotor skills, object manipulation skills, and balance on multiple surfaces. 75% of the active time (135 minutes) should consist of free play, and 25% (45 minutes) being led by adults.

The second and last phase I will address in this article is called “FUNdamentals”. This phase occurs between ages 6-9 years old in boys, and 6-8 years old in girls, in which the main goal is to develop physical literacy. I have already defined physical literacy, in which an athlete’s proficiency will enable them to move confidently and under control in a variety of different physical activities. Children who are physically literate enjoy more success and longer athletic careers than those who are not.

There are 25 Fundamental motor skills that should be developed during this stage:

Balance stretching galloping swimming

Climbing swinging hopping bouncing

Landing turning/twisting jumping/leaping catch/throw

rolling crawling running dribbling (feet and hands)

stopping dodging skipping kicking/striking

An example of how these skills can be organized is a good physical education class, gymnastic class, or a school field day. Sports practices should also follow this model, with the 60% of focus of practice on movement skills, 20% on sport skills, and 20% on individual decision making. The use of modified games should also e implemented as a learning modality and should be composed of 40% sort skills, 30% movement skills, and 30% individual/multi player skills.

The goal of both stages is about teaching physical literacy while having as much fun as possible, which will set the foundation for later success and sport. I will discuss the next two phases in an article next week.

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