This group of athletes are preparing for training in sport. During athletic formation, their cardiorespiratory system is developing and tolerance for lactic acid is improving.
It is also at this stage where many of the differences in maturity will be seen. Athletes that are taller an stronger than others of the same age will become obvious. Growth spurts will inhibit coordination for some which is why some of your athletes have difficulty learning new skills. During this stage, motor abilities should be the focus.
The temptation with this age group and the varying maturity levels is for the ones maturing early to “play up” and compete with athletes older than themselves, because they are good and those allowing the playing up feel that they will have a better shot at success. There is a problem with this view though. They are cognitively and developmentally still children and the increased intense competition and training will can do more harm than good.
The other difficulty with such a move is that the early maturing athlete may feel over confident and not develop the work ethic that is critical to success at the highest levels in softball. Feeling that they are good enough to play up and or that they do not need to improve because they are that much better than athletes their age group can be a detriment to their softball career if not managed wisely.
I have seen this numerous times. Softball players who are tall and strong sitting back during practices and thinking that they should have more opportunities than the rest of the team. Often their parents also have the same view and feel their abilities far exceed everyone else’s. It is important if you have these players that you ensure that they do not take things for granted, and that before accepting them on your team, you inform them of the expectations being the same as the other players with regard to work ethic.
Children who are late maturing athletes have the opposite difficulty. They need to be encouraged to continue to work hard and to be patient and that their body will catch up in their later teens. Often these athletes are the ones that develop the work ethic and self direction required to be successful in softball and then eventually surpass the superstars who jump ahead as early maturing athletes.
Activity Guidelines for this Stage
- encourage multi-sport
- reinforce skill development through various activities
- solidify initiation stage skills
- improve flexibility, coordination and balance
- provide appropriate challenges
- Introduce general strength
- develop aerobic capacity
- introduce moderate anaerobic training
- avoid activities that place high stress on the body
- increase the complexity of skills
- introduce fun competition utilizing their creativity
- encourage socialization
Motor Skills Training
Due to the growth spurts in athletes at this stage, coordination abilities can even slow down. The limbs are growing and the body is attempting to find itself again over and over through the growth. This is why motor skills are a large focus for this group. Early and late maturing athletes will also show differing levels of skill development.
Children who have experience in sports will build on skills acquired in the previous stage thus making this transition smoother and less frustrating. Their balance and reaction time will continue to improve. Girls will have more success with rhythm due to their more natural talents towards artistic sports.
Due to body and muscle size development, in addition to improved nervous system coordination, athletes will increase their speed during puberty as the graph shows in the LTAD article. This is the second instance of the speed window of development that allows athletes to develop speed the easiest.
The superior development is due to the muscle strength and size that is increasing in both boys and girls, however boys will maximize this increase later in their puberty and girls will have a tendency to plateau. The muscle size and strength improvement will give the legs more power to push off the ground in the running form or to throw the ball. This is also why strength is so important in the later stages. This is relevant to upper and lower body speed.
Strength and Power Training
Boys and girls in this stage will show varying developmental progressions at this stage. Boys will improve greater in strength due to testosterone development and the social acceptability of activities involving strength. Yes even in 2015 this is the case. Boys will be tempted to increase their muscle size more for aesthetics than sport performance so it is important for us to monitor their strength training due to the fact that boys can not improve their hypotrophy easily until late puberty when their hormones are maturing.
The upper body is where the most difference occurs in boys and girls and less so in the lower body muscles. The visibility of strength will be more obvious in boys due to the body composition changes in girls. They will begin to gain excess body fat during this time period which also increases the importance of awareness of body image and the coach helping to prevent the negative effects that can occur.
Non specific strength training is important for this stage, low intensity loads should be used to prevent injury as normal growth is not yet complete. Unless the athlete is participating in an early specialization sport, this will create early peak performance and can contribute to burnout. Circuit training is the most recommended form of strength training for this age group.
- develop joint flexibility
- strengthen the tendons
- improve strength in the core area of the body
- teach basic skills
- learn the correct technique without weight
- learn to balance with sport implements
- go through the motions using dumbells
- use barbell with no weights
- use slightly increased loads
Children with a training background will adapt quicker than those that do not. When it is time to increase the demands, do it gradually. If done too quickly injury could occur. You can adapt a training session in the following ways:
- increase the duration of a training session
- increase the number of repetitions
- increase the number of training sessions per week
- increase the number of skill repetitions
This must be done gradually and carefully. You may have noticed that the actual weight is not increased. It is important to refrain from overloading the athlete rather than using other methods of increasing the demands of the training sessions.
Endurance improves as athletes reach this stage of development as a result of their physiological growth which includes muscles (including heart), and lungs. Boys due to their muscle mass growth will experience greater gains than girls who will not develop muscle mass as quickly. This increases the importance for training for girls if they want to improve their endurance gains that will naturally plateau during puberty.
Long distance endurance activities can be harmful to athletes at this age without proper previous training. Muscle injuries can occur and pain can result, decreasing the desire to participate. Time for play must also remain as a part of the program.
We still need to ensure that athletes are enjoying sport at this stage and developing their physical and technical skills appropriately. The temptation to introduce and run high level training reserved for elite athletes will always be a factor. A long term plan is critical for these young athletes if the end result is successful high performance.