Windows of Optimal Trainability
Athletic development expert and world renowned coach Dr. Istvan Balyi has been been invited around the world to present his findings on training athletes and the optimal times of skill development. His focus on long-term athletic training starts in adolescence. According to Balyi, it takes 8 to 12 year of training for a talented athlete to reach elite levels.
Instead of focusing on winning in the short term, Bayli presents that youth coaches should focus on the training and development of their athletes to maximize their athletic potential in the long term. An over-emphasis on winning in the early stages of an athlete’s career could affect how they feel about training, competition, or sport in general, and could lead to shortcomings later in their career.
Chronological Age vs. Biological Age
Bayli’s philosophy on athletic development hinges on the misconception between chronological age and biological age. Your chronological age is your age in years, while your biological age is your age in relation to developmental landmarks such as your growth spurt and other developmental events. Because of the variations in physical, emotional and cognitive development of children that are the same chronological age, Bayli suggests that youth athletes should be trained in groups with similar biological age. There are windows during the course of a child’s development when they are more sensitive to the results of proper training.
When you have (larger) early maturing children training with (smaller) late maturing children, it could lead to an athletic imbalance. Take football, for example: An early maturing child could be the biggest person on the team, thus the coach could focus the team around that child being the star player to win games, instead of focusing on coaching up all of the players. This could discourage other late developing children that may have more (unrealized) athletic potential, make the game less fun, and change their perspective on sports and competition during a pivotal time in adolescent development. Grouping children by their biological age helps to maximize an athletes return on their training.
Training Athletes for Long Term Success
Sports can be split into 2 categories: early specialization and late specialization. Early specialization sports require sport-specific training at a young age (i.e. figure skating, gymnastics, diving, etc.) while late specialization spots require a general training approach (combat sports, most team sports).
Bayli focuses on the late specialization training model, which is split into 5 stages:
- Learning to Train
- Training to Train
- Training to Compete
- Training to Win