CRITICAL REVIEW: LONG-TERM COACHING PROGRAMS
Valentine (2003, p.7) observes that it takes more than ten years for an athlete to reach elite levels. Unfortunately, coaches still rely on the ‘peaking by the Friday’ approach to get immediate results. The long-term approach according to Valentine (2003, p.8) is divided into several levels. Each of these levels is discussed in the next few chapters. The processes and the outcomes of the long-term coaching are then critically reviewed.
The fundamental stage
During this stage, the potential athletes are introduced to motor skills that are necessary for long-term, sport-specific development. McWhorter, Wallman, and Alpert (2003) emphasizes that these skills should be imparted using structured and fun-filled activities. For future athletes, this is the time to develop agility, balance, coordination and speed. Mcwhorter, Wallman, and Alpert (2003) further observe that during this stage, periodization is not important as the athletes are only required to learn the ethics of sports and develop their physical capacities and fundamental movement skills. According to Mcwhorter, Wallman, and Alpert (2003) two critical events occur during this stage: window of accelerated adaptation to speed and critical period of speed development.
The learning to train stage
During this stage, the participants learn specialized sports skills. According to the () at this stage the window of accelerated adaptation to motor coordination occurs and coaches use the concept of single periodization to enable the participants achieve their full potential. However, some sports such as swimming and tennis may require double periodization. At this point coaches may incorporate medicine balls, Swiss balls and body-weight exercises to enhance the strength of the athletes.
The training to train stage
During this stage, the participants build their aerobic strength as well as enhance their sports-specific skills. Optimal aerobic trainability occurs after the onset of Peak Height Velocity but the timing of aerobic training largely depends on the maturity of the participants. A major focus of any coach during this stage is to utilize the 60% training and 40% competition ratio to build the technical skills of the participants while exposing them to physical and mental challenges of the game. The learning to train and training to train stages are very fundamental in ensuring athletes reach optimal performance levels. If the athletes do not achieve appropriate training during the two stages, they fail to achieve their full potential. In addition, coaching at these two stages ensures the participants do not plateau during later stages of their careers.
The training to compete stage
During this stage the ratio of competition to competition-specific training changes from 60: 40 to 50:50. Exposing participants to competitive conditions and fitness programs, model training, recovery programs and technical development in great part helps the coaches to capitalize on the strengths while addressing the weaknesses of the participants. During this stage, multiple periodization as well as individualization of physical training approach is applied to enhance position-specific skills of the participants.
The training to win stage
At this point, participants have achieved optimum physical, technical, tactical, and mental capacities. The objective of this stage is to maximize their fitness preparation. This stage is characterized by a change in ratio of competition to competition-specific training from 60:40 to 75: 25. It is also worth noting that during this stage, participants engage in competitive sports and so prophylactic training becomes necessary in order to address the problem of physical and mental burnouts. In addition, at this stage the participants adopt the practice of exercising as a lifestyle and ensure self-monitoring. During the final stage which is also known as the retention stage, athletes retire from active athletics. Long term programs have been hailed, as they prepare the participants over a long period of time. Coaches are also able to help potential athletes to develop motor skills while they are still young enough. Although long term coaching programs have been him hailed as effective in developing capable athletes, they have been criticized due to a number of reasons. Each of these reasons is detailed below.
High volume training
Long term coaching emphasizes on high volume of training. Unfortunately, according to Lang and Light (2010, p.390) high volume of training has been found to have no impact on events lasting between 20 seconds and 5 minutes. A good example can be found in the swimmer pathway, a program that has been developed to grow talent in the United Kingdom. The program has been modeled after the LTAD model. Just like the LTAD model, the program emphasizes on the high-volume and low-intensity workloads during the training to train stage. The program has been criticized because during this stage, high volume of activities may lead to over-use injuries as well physical and mental burnout. High volume of exercises can also lead to drop out of participants who are dissatisfied with the training process. Another aspect of the long-term coaching programs is its dependence on training frequencies and volumes at every stage of exercising. This aspect is likely to write off potential participants who do not commit to the recommended training loads. As a matter of fact this is one of the main reasons as to why some have coaches have vehemently criticized the Swimmer Pathway.
The LTAD model has also been criticized as it is difficult to harmonize with the existing regulation. The conflict is related to the qualifying age of different events. For instance, there has been a clash between the Amateur swimming Associations and the Swimmer Pathway. On one hand, the young Swimming Association regulations insists that technique work should placed before endurance training while Swimmer Pathway, which was developed after the LTAD model, insists on the contrary. In addition, the ASA encourages young athletes to engage in competitive activities prematurely. For instance, girls as young as 10 year old are permitted to engage in competitive activities while at this age they should be developing sport-specific skills. As Bayli (p.4) observed encouraging young athletes to engage in competitions at an early age is likely to affect their athletic abilities later in life. However, the move by ASA is unavoidable given that it is hard to implement all the provisions of the LTAD model.
Monitoring and evaluation
Using the LTAD model is also problematic in the sense that it is hard to evaluate the participants. Implementation of the model becomes especially hard in a culture where winning at an early age are emphasized on. In Lang and Lights’ views de-emphasizing on the age-group makes the LTAD model even harder to implement (2010, p.390). Land and Lights’ views are well captured in the article titled, Interpreting implementing the long-term athlete development model: English swimming coaches’ views on the Swimming LTAD in practice, where they argue that long-term coaching entails a methodical approach. It is this approach that coaches find hard to follow. Instead, coaches largely depend on their past experiences and personal interpretations and this one of the biggest challenges facing long-term coaching. Other writers have too criticized the long-term coaching approach. Their views are analyzed in the next chapters.
Is long-term coaching based on empirical evidence?
A number of writers have indicated that long term athlete development is based on physiological perspective. This is what () suggested in the article titled, the long-term athlete development model: physiological evidence and application. In the article, Ford, Croix, Lloyd, Meyers, Moosavi, Oliver, Till and Williams point out that the assessment of the participants is carried out using several biological measurements. The first measurement is anatomy. During the stages of transition from childhood to adulthood, people go through different stages of physical development. These stages are marked by changes in body height and endocrine levels. These anatomical changes according to () have a huge impact on the performance of the athletes. The second measurement is neurological levels. Neurological functions have a great impact on the physical competence, control of the fine and gross motor abilities, and skill acquisition. Long-term coaches rely on peak periods to maximize development opportunities. In addition, they take advantage of periods of brain maturation to enhance motor performance. The third measurement is muscle acquisition. According to the experts the process of muscle acquisition is not linear and coaches assess the suitability of participants based on the muscle mass that they have.
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Lang, M. & Light, R. (2010). ‘Interpreting implementing the long-term athlete development model: English swimming coaches’ views on the Swimming LTAD in practice.’ International Journal of Sports Science & Coaching, 5(3), 389-395
Mcwhorter, W., Wallman, H., & Alpert, P. (2003). ‘The Obese child: Motivation as a tool for exercise.’ Journal of Pediatric Health Care, 17, 11-17
Valentine, J. (2003). ‘Don’t children get all the exercise they need from playing?’ Wellspring, 14(1), 6-8