Anyone who performed some sport actively can certainly remember their beginnings and their first coaches. For a child who starts to attend some children sports club at an early age, the figure of the coach means authority. Coaches working with beginning athletes usually determine whether sport shall become part of their entire lives or not. Therefore, the approach and knowledge of the coach is of utmost importance. In children sports training, the coach is faced with many difficulties which he or she must be aware of. The most important difficulties are as follows:
Not every top athlete can be a high-quality coach of children. In common practice of sports clubs, youth coaches are recruited among the top athetes of the club. Such coaches start training children without any practical experience and often also without required coach license. Not everyone is able to face this situation because experience which they have acquired during their active career need not (and often they do not) work with children.
Not every active parent can be a good-quality coach of children. Frequently, coaches of children are recruited among parents. In good faith, they may make crucial mistakes in the training process, often in the area of technical and fitness training.
Ambitious coach. This type of coach is too much focused on immediate performance without respecting the age of the children. This approach suits the training conception of early specialization.
Negative relationshipt coach-child as an athlete. Affection and unfortunately aversion as well are manifested in any relationship. More often than not, it happens that the coach prefers some of his or her trainees on the basis of his or her affection. Children who are being disadvantages in this manner can be subject to frustration and consequently lose any interest in the specific sport.
Parent as a sponsor not only in team sports. Financial aids from parents is perfectly alright. However, coaches cannot be under pressure of such parents-sponsors who can feel that they have thus for example “ensured” that their children will remain in the basic team forever.
Child as an instrument to make parents’ dreams and desires come true. It is a very frequent phenomenon in training practice. Parents often have the feeling that their offspring should achieve what they themselves never have. This phenomenon is more often manifested in individuale sports such as tennis. The parents’ participating in the competition can then present a crucial stressor for their children.
The above difficulties may occur as early as in the first stage of sports traiing (the stage of being introduced to the sport). Various other negative phenomena occur in sports where the top level is reached in young age, e.g. in gymnastics, figure skating etc.
In children sports training, the coach should tak care to complete the following three priorities:
1. Not to harm children physically or psychically. At present, children suffer from specific troubles such as scoliosis, fatique fractures, premature bone ossification etc. due to excessive and unbalanced training load. Likewise, depression or long-term states of frustration may lead to psychic diseases.
2. To create a relationship of the children to sport as a whole-life activity. It is not possible for all children to reach the top level. The coach must attempt to make active sporting a whole-life companion for his trainees.
3. To create stable foundations for the training in the next age category. Sports training must be focused on managing basic constructions which are necessary for a competition to be carried out. It means teaching children technique, basic rules, basic standards of behavior, tactical procedures necessary to carry out the game; all this in compliance with respective development of motor skills.
The division of the age categories is only informational as individual ontogenetic development plays a significant part. Nevertheless, the overview provides a basic insight into the issue of sports preparation.
Younger school age (6-11 years)
Older school age (11-15 years)
Youth age (15-18 years)
The above differentiation is based on calendar year which is only informational and does not inlcude individual speed of ontogenetic changes. Such changes are reflected in biological age. Acceleration means ontogenetic development which is faster than standard. Retardation means the opposite, i.e. ontogenetic development which is slower than standard. Basic methods of determining biological age include:
Sports age is a period during which the athlete is subject to systematic sports preparation. It may be the case that a younger athlete with longer training practice can master sports skills better than much older sportsman.
While creating the conception of sports training, it is necessary to realize that it is a long-term development of performance of each athlete from childhood until adulthood. The contents of the training process must therefore respect biological maturity whereas the biggest performance can be reached only by an athlete who acquired the basis of top performance as early as in childhood and youth. Usually, three kinds of age are differentiated in sports: calendar, biological and sports. Both coaches and athetes must respect all three of them. In this respect, there are two conceptions whic hcan lead to a certain maximum individual efficiency.
Sports training always focuses on characteristic skills for the given sport. The basic difference between the two discussed conceptions is to what extent specific and general stimuli, means and methods contained in the training proces are applied. During the initial years of training, the main aim is not big performance but learning a wide background of motor skills, not only specific movements in the area of the given sport.
Conception of early specialization
This way, a young athlete can reach relatively maximal performance sooner. However, specific load is always a one-sided movement involving the same muscles all the time and there is a danger of muscle imbalance as well as various damages and injuries. Unfinished biological maturing presents a higher probability of health problems. Training specialization is always characteristic in big share of typical (specialized) training means, methods and forms for the given sport. A number of researches on early specialization result in the following:
Still, some kinds of sports (e.g. technical-aesthetic etc.) require early specialization because top performance in these sports is reached prior to the age of 20. A typical example is sports gymnastics where mainly in women, top performances are often reached in childhood – at the ages betwen 14 and 16. Top level sports gymansts of a higher age (over 25) are rather an exception.
Conception of training respective of age
Training respective of the age of a child or youth is interpreted as process respecting their physical and psychical maturity; this process is appropriate for most sports. The advantage of this concept is preventing young organism from damage as well as natural sports development. This concept allows keeping top performance for many years during adulthood. The sports life of every athlete must be divided into several stages which are in concordance with their physical and psychic state, maturity, performance development, stages of skill learning etc. We usually divide the sports life of an athlete into four stages:
Stage of Introductory Sports Pre-Training
The main aim is to gain the children for sport and the most important tasks should contribute to their proper physical and psychic development. This stage usually lasts between 1 and 3 years. The prevailing training means and exercises are general, which can help to develop mainly coordinative abilities since the most important task is to teach children as many movement skills as possible. The intensity should be low and volume should be increasing during years of regular training. In this stage, the most effective training means is game.
Stage of Basic training
The main aim is to create permanent positive attitude of children to sport and accepting sport as a part of life style. This stage has to complete several tasks: harmonic development of children and youth, strenghtening health, supporting natural physical and psychic development. Good performance is not a priority and accent is given to further development of coordinative abilities, speed and movement dynamics. The load should be mainly universal and specific load has to be aimed practicing basic technique (children technique) of skills in the given sport. The rate of specific and general training is about 20:80 per cent at the age of 11/12, and 50:50 per cent at the age of 14/15. This stage usually lasts for 2 or 4 years. The age of children going through this stage can vary, however, for most sports; it is usually during older school age. E.g. technical–aesthetic sports (gymnastics, figure skating) start very early (about the age of 5/6), endurance sports can start systematic training later, about the age of 13/14.
Stage of Specific training
The first stage is a transition from basic to specific training. High performance is still a prospective aim, and the competition is not only the criterion of performance but the means of improving performance. The load of training process is increasing (both in volume and intensity). The technical skills are continuously fixed with the help of specific exercises and means, under high load and also with increasing fatigue or in different competition conditions etc. Motor abilities start to develop with respect to the need of specific fitness (specific strength, endurance, velocity).
This stage is typical of every sport and lasts for 2 or 4 years. For most sports, this stage stretches over the category of youth, from 14 (15) to 18(19) years of age. However, in gymnastics, it is approximately between 8 and 12 years (girls). Athletes should understand that their training process is a systematic activity and a meaningful part of their lives.
Stage of Top training
The main aim is to achieve maximal performance and keep it for long time. This stage tops off the long-term training process and it is meant for talented athletes only. Adulthood allows maximal volume and quality of trainings load. In most sports, this stage starts after reaching 19 years of age but in some (technical-aesthetic) sports, the athlete can reach maximal performance early (14 – 18 years). Training volume is very high, 300 – 330 days per year, 700 – 1,500 hour of load. Training process should be adjusted to individual differences among athletes but with maximum focus on specific load, approximately 10-20% of general load and 80-90% of specific load.
The main tasks are: to reach maximal level of technical skills and movement economy, to achieve very high level of tactical abilities, to achieve maximal level of training (strength, endurance, speed etc.).
Logical procedure of developing individual motor abilities is based on the development rules. During life, there are periods which are suitable for developing specific motor abilities – sensitive periods. If coaches make use of such periods, they can form a very good background for future sports life of their athletes. An overview of sensitive periods and specific differences in children training:
Boys7-14 years of age
Girls7-14 years of age
Aerobic endurance whenever
Anearobic endurance from 14-15 years of age on
Boys13-15 years of age
Girls10-13 years of age
Period till 10 years of age
Period between 10 and 12 years of age
Period between 13 and 15 years of age
Period of systematic strength development
The effectivity of individual muscles incereases due to the influence of sex and growth hormons.
Focusing on three basic areas:
In exercises which focus on handling the axis of a free weight
It is based on methods and means used in previous periods of strength training. Usually in the form of circle procedure. The means mentioned above are made use of together with expanders, light weights etc.
Applying special methods of strength training (e.g. speed method, effort repetition etc.).
Boysuntil 12 years of age
Girls7-11 years of age
The training of coordination abilitites has been dealt with in Chapter 9.