Why do we have a pathway for our young players – it’s about planning and progressing the development of each player so they can reach their full potential – whatever level that may be. Think about it in terms of a journey from childhood to adolescence, we ask ourselves what needs to be done at each journey stage to give the child the best chance of engaging in lifelong physical activity. We also look at those whose drive is to have the best chance of achieving athletic success.  

A lot of pathways focus on talent development rather than athletic development. With athletic development, the goal is to achieve long-term participation. Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day, teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime – As a coach, your purpose is to provide an athlete with the tools and education to unlock their potential. 

A lot of coaches focus on the ‘what’ and ‘how’ of coaching but the long-term and most important aspect is the ‘why’ behind what we do. The athlete will be able to perform better if he/she understands the ‘why’ behind what they are doing. We must also consider enjoyment – by allowing the athlete to enjoy the season, it will enable them to experience fulfilment and learn new concepts easier.  

The goal of long-term athletic development is to get as many people involved, for as long as possible, at the highest level they can perform.  

Importance of Play in Child’s Development 

Play is the fun of any child’s life. Some children are being pigeonholed into a certain sport from an early age, but it is important to allow them to decide on what sport(s) they want to do. The skills that children develop through sports and movements are very important. Coaches must find a balance between allowing them to play and teaching fundamental movement skills.  

We should encourage children to get out and play, they have great imaginations and will create their own games. Children can move and they lose that level of movement ability as they mature, so as they become teens, that’s when movement problems occur.  

Not every child will want to participate in team sports. Simply using a fundamental skill such as striking, will help them if they can to play camogie, hurling, hockey, golfing etc., there is something for everyone.  

These fundamental movement skills should be taught in schools, at home, and in sporting environments.  

Chronological Age and Biological Age 

Chronological age is the amount of time you spent on this planet, the number of years you have been alive. Biological age is how old someone is physically and mentally. 

It’s important to gauge where all your players are at – both chronologically and biologically – and give that late developer a chance to evolve and not get pushed to the side along the way.  

Bio Banding 

Bio Banding is putting players who have similar physical characteristics. For example, grouping taller children together and grouping shorter children together. It’s a relatively new concept and focuses on the child’s biological age rather than their chronological age. The children should enjoy this organisation more as it gives them a better opportunity to compete at a more challenging level.  

Finding the balance – bio banding can also be beneficial from a strength point of view, physical competence. Bio banding can also be beneficial from a strength point of view and from a physical competence point of view.  

Another element to consider is gender.  Childhood boys and girls are similar, the differences start to emerge when they hit adolescence with the onset of puberty. Females usually experience puberty earlier than males. Females tend to develop a quicker than males. Males tend to have greater gains in most physical attributes. Males tend to develop a greater muscle mass. Female hormones mean females have a greater body fat percentage and less lean muscle mass. Females tend to be more mobile and flexible. Its important to focus on mechanics and movement skills throughout this change. For females in particular, the focus should be on strength work, as it underlies all components.  

Early vs Late Specialisation 

Early specialisation kills long-term youth development. It’s very prevalent in a lot of sports, including gymnastics, soccer, and GAA. It is important for the athlete to choose what sport(s) they want to pursue and to enjoy each sport. Specialisation or deciding on pursuing only one sport should occur later down the line.  

Click here to learn more about our 9-month QQI Level 6 Certificate in Youth Athletic Development, delivered every March, June, September and December.