This weekend I had a moment when I completely doubted myself as a coach, a parent and a fitness educator. I stood at the side of the track and watched an athlete finish completely, absolutely, way, way, WAY far behind in last place. I, his team mates and others were still cheering, but when that little 6 year old fell across the line of his 400m race, the guilt was strong. This wasn’t just any athlete, but also my son. Should I have done something differently? If so, what? Was there something the other coaches were doing that I wasn’t?
The main thing about children’s athletics is understanding what the stages of development are, and what Sport for Life and Athletics Canada call the Long Term Athlete Development (LTAD) model.
At the age of my son he is still in what is considered the Active Start phase, where I have him participating to stay active, learn some new skills and try things in new environments. Even those slightly older than him in the race who can be considered in the FUNdamentals phase should be focusing on being well rounded in all of the basics of physical literacy such as running, jumping and throwing.
To be honest, I paced around the track taking a critical look at our program, athletes from other areas, other coaches, athletes and parents and tried to refocus with what my training has taught me. And the more I looked, the more frustrated I became.
I truly believe that despite the proliferation of organized sport in our country, we are failing our children. But I no longer believe that I failed mine, or any other child in my track club.
Studies have shown that children who specialize in sport too soon, at ages 6—9 or 9-12, when they should be learning the FUNdamentals, and overall sports skills required to become all round healthy athletes exit the sport younger than the ones who are allowed to develop at their own pace, and in a play based manner.
The coaches that run the programming for our clubs 8-13 year old group are trained in the Athletics Canada’s Run Jump Throw program, and are NCCP qualified coaches. Those who run our Intro to Track program also follow the LTAD program with game based development for our 5-7 year old group of children.
The young ones did not show up to their first meet of the season with body suits, running spikes and fancy track suits. They came with friends and snacks and coaches who yelled and cheered for every personal best. Walking to the parking lot was a rundown of what events they wanted to try next time, as they are allowed to pick what they compete in, a “try what interests you” approach. And the best thing of all, that showed me the worry was all for nothing, was that same tired 6 year old in the car on the way home “Mommy, I had the best, best, best, most amazing awesome day ever. I love this team”.
Long-term Athlete Development for the win.
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Laura Sivers – LifeFit Athletics and Head Coach at Brockville Legion Track and Field Club