The detection of the potential of young players is common in our competitive sports activities. However, it is too often focused on finding results for young athletes. This detection and research may harm young people to become the champions of tomorrow.
The Federations have created what they call the “Sports Excellence Pathway” (SEP) with the aim of giving instructions to coaches (technical content, tactics, etc.). All this with the aim of achieving the ultimate goal for these athletes, reach the highest possible level (Olympic Games, national teams, …).
Unfortunately, in these guidelines, the physical development part is sometimes neglected. However, I have seen a change over the past number of years. The main aim of the Federations remains oriented towards performance in competition at the expense of the real physical needs of young athletes.
The current way of life, increasingly sedentary (sitting in an office, travelling by public transport, …) also does not help.
The current trend of youth sport is limited to a single discipline, whereas greater diversity would be more appropriate.
That’s why more and more strength and conditioning coach, of which I am a member, are making innovative speeches and trying to reverse the trend that is not sufficiently taken into account and heard by some coaches.
My article will present my thoughts and researches on the topic of basketball. My goal is to try to create the need for real complementarity with coaches through debates and exchanges.
I) The risks of premature specialisation
Ericsson said in 1993 that it took 10 years or 10,000 hours of training to become an Olympic champion. This phrase has created a wave of premature specialization among young athletes.
This specialization could lead to an increase in injuries related to the “overuse” of athletes’ limbs. In addition, athletes who have played only one sport during their childhood and adolescence have a greater chance of dropping out of the practice during their careers and therefore fewer opportunities to reach or remain at the top level.
A 2017 study published in “The American Journal of Sports Medicine” (written by Rugg al.) shows that NBA players who played only one sport during their high school education have more serious sports-related injuries and a lower percentage of games played (which may be an indicator of longevity in the best league in the world). This study was conducted on all players selected in the first round of the NBA Draft (selection of players under 21 each year, they are the top 30 players of an age class from around the world) between 2008 and 2015 which gives a significant sample and additional support to the study. In fact this translates into the use of the same motor patterns and therefore joints and muscles in the same way. Using a joint in half or in a single type of movement contributes to the increased risk of injury. It will therefore be necessary to develop a wider range of motion during the evolution of young athletes.
Specialization also means greater involvement in practice and more hours of training in a single sport. New Zealand researchers have shown that specialization before age 13 and a high volume of involvement in a single sport can lead to a higher risk of injury (The Journal of Science and Medicine in Sport, February 2020, McGowan – al.).
II) Directions to take
Now that the framework is set, I’ll give you some directions to take to bring more relevant content to your young athletes.
Actual age vs. Organic Age
Indeed the growth of our athletes is not the same for each individual and is even different by gender. The interest will be to predict the peak growth of athletes (girls or boys) to adapt the physical content in our workouts. For girls, it takes place around the age of 12 and around 14 for boys.
We will have to calculate the maturity lag using the prediction equation of Mirwald al (2002) which is to be found in our guide. For this equation you will need several parameters:
- Date of birth (years and months as decimal place)
- Date of measurement
- Standing size
- Sitting size
- Leg length (standing size – sitting size)
The closer the measurement is to the peak of growth, the more reliable they will be (between 9 and 13 years for girls, between 12 and 16 years for boys).
This equation gives us a figure between -1 and 1:
- A maturity of -1 indicates that the measurement were carried out one year before the peak of growth
- A maturity of 0 indicates that the measurements were taken during the peak of growth
- A maturity of 1 indicates that the measurements were carried out after the peak of growth
It is enough to add (when maturity is negative) or subtract (when maturity is positive) this maturity at chronological age to determine the peak of growth rate in size (Peak Height Velocity, PHV) and thus determine the biological age of an athlete.
All its results will give us guidance on the direction to take in terms of physical content to be put in place.
The interest is to create an “engine” for athletes and then develop it and then optimize it later in their careers.
Before the peak of growth:
During this period it will be a question of building a base of movements as wide as possible that an athlete will be able to achieve in his sporting career. These movements are called “functional”. In this phase, a sportsman will have to be able to master a full squat with a stick over his head. Mobility and flexibility work can also be put in place during this period. In basketball, it will be a matter of developing the motor skills of young athletes around the flexed position (reference position).
On top of that, we are in a good window to develop neuromuscular speed qualities. We can perform small duel exercises integrated into the activity and especially in played form which is very interesting to develop this aspect of the player.
During the peak of growth:
This phase where the gains in centimeters are most important is critical for the joints of athletes. It will be necessary to move away from the work of strength and speed to put in place a protocol of flexibility and mobility to reduce the impact of growth diseases such as Sever and Osgood-Schlatter. Basketball being a risky activity on this aspect given the repetitions of jumps.
The training load for these athletes will also have to be adjusted to reduce the risk of muscle or other injuries. This is tricky because it comes at an age when players begin to integrate High Level access structures (Training centers, etc.). We will have to be able to justify this preventive aspect.
After the peak of growth:
In previous phases the physiological system of athletes was still immature. Now we will be able to develop the aerobic qualities of athletes.
Also, we will be able to begin the work of force development strictly speaking (with the use of additional loads). If the athlete masters a wide range of basic movements then the work will be optimized and the gains faster and more important.
It should also be taken into account that there are 2 years of gap between boys and girls in development. The content of a boy will not be the same as that of a girl at the same chronological age. Also between two athletes of the same chronological age their biological age will not be the same, so it will be necessary to individualize the content though.
Specialization in a single activity reduces the chances of reaching the top level and increases the risk of injury and stopping activity later in an athlete’s career. However, it is not guaranteed to reach the very highest level by practicing several activities.
This article was written to provide ways to help more “potential” young people reach the top level.
Find in our shop a guide (in french but you could mail us for an english version) to use the measurement of the speed of the peak of growth as well as an example of content in basketball with all phases of learning. This is the result of my observations and research and is one example for me among many of how to build an athlete’s journey in order to reach the High Level.
See you very quickly on the pitch!
1) “The associations of early specialisation and sport volume with musculoskeletal injury in New Zealandchildren,” Jody McGowana, Chris Whatmana, Simon Waltersa, Journal of Science and Medicine in Sport, February 2020.
2) “Late specialization: the key to success in centimeters, grams, or seconds (cgs) sports,” K. Moesch A.-M. Elbe M.-L. Hauge J. M. Wikman, Scandinavian Journal of Medicine – Science in Sport, March 2011.
3) “The Effects of Playing Multiple High School Sports on National Basketball Association Players’ Propensity for Injury and Athletic Performance,” C.Rugg- al. The American Journal of Sports Medicine
4) “Developing World-Class Soccer Players: An Example of the Academy Physical Development Program From an English Premier League Team,” R.Desmond, Strength – Conditioning Journal: June 2018.
5) “The 10 looters for successful long-term athletic development,” Journal of Strength – ConditioningResearch, March 2016.
6) Qualitative perspectives on how Manchester United Football Club developed and sustained serial winning, David E Horrocks, International Journal of Sports Sciences – Coaching, June 2016.
7) An assessment of maturity from atnhropometricmeasurements, Mirwald al, 2002.
8) Canada Basketball website
9) American Football Federation website
10) The physical preparation of the young player, Aurélien Broussal-Derval – Laurent Delacourt, editions 4Trainer.
11) Quentin Ott, in the wake of the All Blacks.