Balyi’s first proposed his stages of long term athlete development in 1998 since this time a lot of time has been put into understanding the importance of progression for young athletes. However many parents and coaches are still too quick to progress young athletes through the ranks. Understanding the stages outlined below are crucial in making the right training and competition decisions for young athletes.
1) FUNdamental (males and females 6-10): The emphasis is on the overall development of a young athletes physical capacities, movement skills and the ABC’s of athleticism. Athletes are encouraged to participate in a broad range of sports with a wide variety of movement patterns and movement challenges. Speed, Power and endurance and developed through exposure to fun games. This is a chance to introduce athletes to the basics of rules and ethics in sport.
2) Training to Train (males 10-14 and females 10-13): As the name suggests this stage is targeted around teaching athletes how to train. Athletes begin to learn the skills of a specific sport. During this stage training starts to become more structured incorporating the elements that will form the essence of training in the years to come including, technical and tactical skills, warm-up/cool-down, stretching, hydration, and recovery, mental preparation and tapering. During competition athletes play to win however the major focus of this stage should be on enhancing their training and learning. A 75:25 training: competition/competitive training ratio is recommended by experts during this stage.
3) Training to Compete (males 14-18 and females 13-17): This stages see a change in the focus of training with an even split between training devoted to technical and tactical skills and training devoted to competition specific training and competition itself. Once an athlete reaches the training to compete stage training is usually provided to an athlete all year round. This stage sees the refinement of both basic and sports specific skills and brings these to bear in a competitive training environment.
4) Training to Win (males 18 and older, females 17 and older): This stage is the culmination of athletic preparation, all of the athlete’s physical, mental, tactical and ancillary capacities are all fully developed. The focus of training becomes about the optimisation of performance, training is high in intensity, frequency and volume and as such periodisation of training becomes of utmost importance. Training vs competitive training/competition ratios are further pushed to bias competition and competitive training at 25:75.
5) Retirement/Retaining: The 5th and final stage is Balyi’s stages of long term athlete development. This stage deals with an athletes post competitive life after an athlete has permanently retired from competition. At this stage some athletes utilize their knowledge gained throughout their career to move into post competition roles including coaching, officiating, sports administration and business.
Long term athletic development is critical for allowing young athletes to achieve their potential, the steps involved outline a clear and well defined path from childhood through the developmental stage and into elite competition. Each phase plays a role in the development of an athletes physical and mental capacities. Athletes who fail to be exposed to a clear developmental path risk being left behind their peers and will usually have gaps in their athletic profile which leave them at a disadvantage later in their career.
Anecdotally many athletes are pushed to quickly through the first 2-3 phases of development in particular the training to train stage is usually overlooked leaving many teenage athletes with very high rates of competitive play with a very low base of athletic skills and movement quality. This can be very hard if not impossible to rectify later in their career due to the congested nature of many playing schedules.
Understanding this pathways allows coaches and parents to take a long term view of athletic development and to focus on the importance of each stage. This allows athletes to development with time and training and to have the best possible chance of reaching their dreams.
Balyi, I. (2001). Sport system building and long-term athlete development in British Columbia. Coaches Report, 8(1), 22–28.