As coaches, regardless of the sport we are all looking for one thing. That is more athletes. Have you ever heard a coach say “Gee, I have all the athletes I need for my team”? No, of course you haven’t. The big lament is always about a lack of depth. So what we do as coaches is set around and wait for that next good class to come through to give us the success we strive for.

Instead of waiting for the next good class, let’s start developing our own athletes.  What I mean is that we need to develop ATHLETES that we can teach the skills of our particular sport.  Which leads us to the question of what is an athlete. I won’t get into much detail here, as we will discuss this in another post, but suffice it to say that an athlete is one who possesses the basic fundamental skills of running, jumping, throwing, catching, has balance and coordination.  If an athlete has these basic skills, a coach can teach him the sport specific skills needed to play any sport.

That sounds simple enough, but we need to have a long-term development plan. We we can’t just look at today, we must look into the future.

I’m sure that, by now, most of you have heard of Istvan Balyi. Many people view him as the father of long-term athletic development. Search the Internet and you will find many references and examples to his long-term athletic development plan. Here is a graphic that illustrates Balyi’s plan:

As you can see from this graphic, this is a step by step progression. You can put this into a pyramid and the base would be the largest block. Remember the base must be wide and strong to support our efforts in building our athlete.  Almost every sport will fit into this model. However there are a few exceptions. Sports such as gymnastics require a much earlier training plan because of body type or size needed to compete. we would classify these sports as early specialization sports.

So, here we have the model of what we are striving for. The question now is what do we need to do to get there? This is where it becomes really interesting.  Every parent wants their child to be literate. To get through life, every child needs an education. Within that education, a child learns the 3Rs; readin’, ‘ritin’, and ‘rithmetic.  Along the way, they also learn about history, science, music, and art. This is called a well-rounded education.

For about the 1st 12 to 13 years of age student’s school life, this is how the curriculum goes. Not specializing necessarily in one subject, but being exposed to many, many subjects. With this large knowledge base, a child can now decide what he is most interested in and choose to specialize in that course of study. This whole process begins by the student learning to recognize letters and numbers.

In the U.S., our current model does just the opposite. For the most part, we are only exposed to sports that our parents know or want us to play. The sport is chosen and he is signed up for this sport, given a few weeks of instruction, sent out to play the game and expected to win. We wouldn’t teach a child math for couple weeks and then expect him to do accounting, would we? Then why we do it in sport?

So what is the answer? The answer is to teach each child to become Physically Literate. In the next installment of this series, we will discuss what Physical Literacy is and its importance to the development of an athlete. By becoming physically literate in all environments, land, water, air, and snow and ice, a child will be able function successfully in any sport of his choosing.