A three-part series dedicated to the discussion of long-term athletic development for athletes and coaches. Athletes and new lifters are often being pushed too hard, too fast. What actually goes into training, coaching, and developing an athlete or lifter from young/novice trainee to a superstar?
Let's review: Long-Term Athletic Development (LTAD) refers to the progressive development of on- and off-field skill, strength, speed, and movement over time in order to enhance performance and growth and to decrease risk of injury.
If you read parts one and two of this series (links are above), we discussed the overarching principle of why LTAD is advantageous for coaches, athletes, and parents.
We also went over three principles of long-term athletic development: movement patterning and variability, energy systems development, and strength development.
Now in part three, we will discuss the principles of mobility and stability, nutrition, and recovery.
1. Mobility and Stability
Touch your toes to stretch your hamstrings. Do some arm circles. Pull your toes toward you to stretch the calves. Sound familiar?
This may be a warm-up one of your coaches used when you played sports. Perhaps it’s something you’re still using with your athletes. Truth is, this model is archaic. We can’t allow our athletes to fall short in this area.
When we think about the body as a joint-by-joint process from the foot/ankle up, there are different needs at each joint in terms of mobility and stability.
With every athletic movement expressed on the field/court (sprinting, jumping, cutting, etc.), there is an inherent need for mobility and stability at each joint in order to prevent injury and properly perform the movement. This, along with the inevitable placement of youth athletes in a chair at school for eight hours each day, can leave young athletes with less than adequate mobility.
On top of all this, most young athletes don’t possess the adequate stability to control their body in space properly.
Therefore, the development and importance of mobility and stability is crucial to overall athletic performance and health.
Just throwing some random stretches into a program won’t cut it.
Here are some good drills that can be incorporated initially to help build mobility around the foot/ankle, stability around the knee, mobility at the hips, activation of the glutes, stability at the trunk and lower back, mobility at the thoracic spine, and an adequate amount of mobility and stability at the shoulder.
As mentioned in part one, nutrition is all about fueling the body properly in order to recover and ultimately adapt from the stresses of training, practice, and competition.
I often get asked by parents what supplement their kid needs to take. This is really the wrong question. This question needs to be ignored and redirected to what I call the big rocks of nutrition.
Overall, an athlete is accruing miles and miles of activity on their body each week. Therefore, the athlete’s nutrition needs to provide adequate calories and nutrients from whole foods for providing energy, immune support, recovery, and nutrients for everyday functioning.
Then, if necessary, the help of a supplement can provide us with a training aide or something we’re not naturally receiving in the diet.
Mindlessly counting calories and grams of nutrients can be exhausting and most likely won’t move the needle for a young athlete. That is why coaching athletes on the big rocks of portion size, food selection, meal timing, and hydration is so important.
Some basic recommendations that can work very well for athletes are the following:
- Eat at least 3 meals a day. All meals should consist of 1-2 palm sized portions of protein, 2 fistfuls of vegetables, 1-2 cupped handfuls of fruit and/or starches, 1 thumb of fat, and 12-16 oz. of water.
- Hydrate with 2 glasses of water before training/practice/game, attempt to hydrate every 15-20 minutes, and then hydrate with at least 2 glasses of water after training/practice/game.
- Make snacks protein based. The biggest thing young athletes will be susceptible to is snacking on junk food and sweet beverages. If a coach had told me about the importance of refueling with the right foods between meals and training, I would have been much better off. Snacks such as greek yogurt, jerky, nuts, or a high quality protein powder and/or bar can make for great options.
- Always try to eat something prior to training, practice, and games. Never train, practice, or compete fasted. This will leave an athlete without the nutrients needed for fuel and recovery.
- Never skip breakfast and make protein the king of breakfast.
More is less. Less is more.
Athletes, coaches, and parents are always looking for the competitive edge. Oftentimes, this is viewed as having to do more and push harder. Recovery needs to be viewed as a weapon, a weapon to help the body realize the adaptations it’s been training for and to be ready to perform at full capacity.
When the body is not given the things it needs or time to recover, then performance will decrease and injury risk will increase over time.
A recovery cocktail for athletes is the combination of time, sleep, nutrition, and stress reduction.
- Time can simply be a day or week off from all activity
- The right amount of sleep is needed to restore the immune system, hormonal function, and muscular recovery
- The incorporation of the basic nutrition principles above can help increase recovery
- Letting athletes unwind to reduce stress is equally important
There is an increasing amount of sport specialization amongst youth athletes every year. Repeating the same demands every day throughout the year can be a huge stressor on an athlete.
Allowing time for other sports to be played (or play in general) and experiences outside of the sport can help alleviate mental and physical stress from the constant overload of training, practices, games, and tournaments. They can also help develop different movement patterns and an extra amount of competitiveness.
The Long-Term Athletic Development Equation
As evident, it is very easy to get in a race when it comes to athletic development. The old saying, “Rome wasn’t built in a day,” holds true and firm here. Rome wasn’t built in a day and neither will the overall development of an athlete.
Taking the time to refine and develop an athlete’s skill work, strategy, movement patterning, energy systems, strength, mobility and stability, nutrition, and recovery will allow a more successful athlete to blossom in the end.
A strength & conditioning coach who was a burnt-out, overworked athlete