Baseball Magazine

Are We Coaching Our Kids Correctly?

By Meachrm @BaseballBTYard

Below is an article that was written for a physical therapy journal. As you will see, it deals with youth sports. I highly recommend spending the time to read it through. The author is not only an accomplished physical therapist in the Philadelphia suburbs but also a very good baseball guy. He agreed to allow me to post it on my site.




Long Term Athletic Development: Are we coaching our kids correctly?

By John R. Mishock, PT, DPT, DC; Mishock Physical Therapy & Associates

Long Term Athletic Development (LTAD) is a model created by Dr. Istvan Balyi to guide the athletic development process from pre-puberty through retirement. The LTAD approach emphasizes age-appropriate skill acquisition based on one’s development physiologically, cognitively and socially to maximize the athlete’s potential. This model focuses on building an athlete first and then moving to more detailed sports specific skill as he or she reaches each developmental milestone (Balyi and Hamilton, 2003; Ericsson).

Research suggests that it may take 8-to-12 years of training for a talented player/athlete to reach elite level status, also known as the 10,000 hour rule (Balyi and Hamilton, 2003;

Dr. John Mishock

Dr. John Mishock

Ericsson). Roughly it takes about 10,000 hours to reach elite level status. In the United States, it is estimated that forty five million children (age 5-18) play organized sports each year (Minnesota Amateur Sports Commission, Athletic Footwear Association, USA Today). Many of the parents and coaches of these young athletes approach sports with a “Peak by Friday” mentality. This over-emphasis on immediate results and competitions does not allow the children to develop fundamental physical literacy (competence in a wide variety of physical activities in multiple environments that benefits healthy development) and skill (Balyi and Hamilton, 2003). The excess games and “Peak by Friday” mentality puts a lot of pressure on kids. Coaches and parents expect kids to be able to move and make plays like adults; these developing children simply do not have the movement based skill to coordinate their body and limbs to do so.

This lack of proper coaching, training and athletic development may lead to an inordinate number of kids quitting sports before they even have finished developing physiologically. Thus, by age 15, seventy percent of kids stop playing sports all together (National Center for Health Statistics).

In a survey of 10,000 kids nation-wide, it was found that kids stop playing sports because; they’re not having fun, too much time required, too much pressure, too much emphasis on winning, developing bad habits due to too much competition, the coach played favorites or was a poor teacher, and they needed more time to study (Youth Sports Institute at Michigan State,2010).

Most of the coaches in youth sports are volunteers with little or no training. Youth sports organizations are thankful to have volunteers, however, of the 2-4 million coaches only 20% have received any type of training in effective motivational techniques, and just 1 in 3 have been trained in skills and tactics in the primary sport they coach (Aspen Institue’s Sports & Society Program by the Sports & Fitness Industry Association, 2013).

The lack of properly trained coaches often leads to an excessive number of competitions/games and an emphasis on sports-specific skills only. It is much easier to play a game than to develop a strong fundamental practice that meets the need of the child’s development. In turn there is incomplete athletic development lending to overuse injuries caused by improper training and inadequate recovery.

For example, you have a young baseball or soccer player whose parents at a young age decide that this is their sport. That child plays year round with the coaches focusing on sport specific skills. That athlete then misses critical windows of physical development in agility, balance, coordination and speed. Missing developmental milestones can result in overall low strength levels, incorrect landing mechanics, incorrect deceleration techniques, ligament laxity, muscle tightness, nonsymmetrical muscle development, and over-reliance on a particular limb. The child never develops as an athlete first leading to many of the overuse injuries we see in our clinics today. Knee ACL injuries in our soccer players and shoulder or elbow injuries in our baseball players are typical examples.

Research by numerous national governing bodies including, the United States Olympic Committee, and many others in sport has proven that early specialization in sport actually prevents an athlete from reaching their full potential.

The lack of development of physical literacy and proper athletic movement may lead to decreased interest in any type of physical activity. By age 9 physical activity rates begin to drop sharply. By age 15, moderate-to-vigorous physical activity declines to just 49 minutes per weekday and 35 minutes per weekend (JAMA, 2008)

A sedentary lifestyle can then follow. It is well documented that sedentary living causes such health problems as obesity, diabetes, high blood pressure, cardiovascular disease, and other chronic diseases that evolve to form a lifelong problem starting in childhood.

So… Why do we have our kids play sports?

Youth sports are big money with parents spending over $5 billion per year for sports related activities (Minnesota Amateur Sports Commission, Athletic Footwear Association, USA Today). Many of the organizations pray on the parents and young athletes in their dreams of college scholarships and professional careers. There is nothing wrong with the aspiration to play in college or professionally, however, it must be kept in perspective.

The odds of a college or professional career in sports are minuscule. Of the forty five million kids playing youth sports, 1 in 4 youth stars become a stand out in high school. Only 2 to 5 percent of high school athletes go on to play division I or II college sports. The odds are even much smaller to play professionally. The odds of a high school baseball player making it to the MLB is 1 in 4,000, high school football players making the NFL is 1 in 6,000, and a high school basketball player making the NBA is 1 in 10,000 (Scholarship; Athletes Going Pro,

However, sports participation can be a countermeasure to a sedentary lifestyle which is clearly prevalent and dangerous. Regular physical activity benefits children in many ways, including helping build and maintain healthy bones, muscles, and joints; helping control weight and reduce fat; preventing or delaying the development of high blood pressure and other diseases.

Sports participation can lead to enhanced concentration, improved grades and standardized test scores. It can help in personal development, such as improving self-esteem, confidence, goal-setting, and leadership. (GAO, 2012).

Ultimately, youth sports participation should lead to a life-long passion for physical activity and fitness. Adolescents who play sports are eight times as likely to be active at age 24 (Sports Participation as Predictors of Participation in Sports and Physical Fitness Activities in Young Adulthood, Perkins, 2004).

The Long Term Athlete Model helps to teach proper physical literacy and improvement of athleticism through proper skill movements learned in a sequential and progressive program design. These components will help an athlete become less susceptible to injuries, improve an athlete’s ability to perform technical and tactical skills more effectively, and assist the athlete to cope with the demands of the sport (Balyi and Hamilton, 2003). .

Coaches/teachers must know what correct techniques look like and how to teach and make corrections. The instructors must know the proper position of the trunk, arms, legs, and head as the individual performs various movements.

Phase 1 – FUNdamentals (Balyi)

This phase is appropriate for boys aged 6 to 9 and girls aged 5 to 8. The main objective should be the overall development of the athlete’s physical capacities and fundamental movement skills. The athlete should participate in as many sports as possible. Unfortunately this is the stage that is usually neglected due to coaches’ lack of experience in physical literacy and the sport. This stage is very important in the childs physical development as an athlete. Agility, balance, coordination and speed (ABC’s) are developing at this age. The focus should be on running, jumping, throwing, catching, kicking and striking techniques should be taught. Exercise should be done with the use of one’s own body weight. Swiss balls, bosu balls, small medicine balls, wobble boards, balance beams, climbing ropes, cargo nets can be used in the training process. This type of training is optimizing the neuromusculoskeletal sytems development during this phase.

Phase 2 – Learning to train (Balyi)

This phase is appropriate for boys aged 9 to 12 and girls aged 8 to 11. The main objective should be to learn all fundamental sports skills. In this phase one learns general overall sports skills. Training can be similar to phase 1, however, flexibility can be introduced through static and dynamic stretching. In this phase practice time is essential to develop good mechanics for the sport. Thousands of repetitions are needed to be competent at motor or movement based skill. Seventy percent of the time should be spent on training and practice while only thirty percent on games or competitions. In many cases there are too many games played which does not allow the child to develop fundamental skills needed to excel in the sport.

Phase 3 – Training to train (Balyi)

This phase is appropriate for boys aged 12 to 16 and girls aged 11 to 15. The main objective should be the overall development of the athlete’s physical capacities (focus on aerobic conditioning) and fundamental movement skills. Sport-specific skills are further developed and enhanced. At this phase weight lifting techniques can be added to the training program along with proper nutrition to meet the athletes ever expanding needs. The strength training window for boys begins 12 to 18 months after the Peak Velocity of Height (largest growth spurt in development) and the onset of menarche for females. Special emphasis is also required for flexibility training due to the sudden growth of bones, tendons, ligaments and muscles. A 60% training to 40% competition ratio (includes competition and competition-specific training) is recommended.

Phase 4 – Training to compete (Balyi)

This phase is appropriate for boys aged 16 to 18 and girls aged 15 to 17. The main objective should be to optimize fitness preparation, sport/event specific skills and performance. Fifty percent of available time is devoted to the development of technical and tactical skills and fitness improvements. The other 50% of available time is devoted to competition and competition-specific training.

Phase 5 – Training to win (Balyi)

This phase is appropriate for boys aged 18+ and girls aged 17+. The main objective should be to maximize fitness preparation and sport/event specific skills as well as performance. All of the athlete’s physical, technical, tactical, mental, personal and lifestyle capacities are now fully established and the focus of training has shifted to the maximization of performance. Athletes train to peak for major competitions. Training is characterized by high intensity and relatively high volume with appropriate breaks to prevent over training. Training to competition ratio in this phase is 25:75, with the competition percentage including competition-specific training activities.

Phase 6 – Retirement & retainment (Balyi)

The main objective should be to retain athletes for coaching, officiating, sport administration etc. The goal is that the athlete continues to play sports and engages in physical activity for life long enjoyment of competition, fitness and health.

With our excessive emphasis on sports in our society, The Long Term Athletic Development (LTAD) model may be the best way to guide our kids athletic development process from pre-puberty through retirement.


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