How Do Young Athletes Learn?




Young Athletes Development Tips


Developing young athletes is not based solely on a given conditioning
coach’s understanding of scientifically valid measures of motor stimulus,
strength training or flexibility exercises. In fact, it could be argued that
given all of the critical information contained in this textbook on exercise
selection, methodology and sensitive period development, successful
coaches will be the ones who can teach and relay information to young
athletes well, more so than the coach who merely reads and digests the
scientific information offered via clinical research.


The science of developing young athletes, then, is centered in the particular
technical information associated with pediatric exercise science whereas
the art of developing a young athlete is based on a coach’s ability to teach.


There are several styles of coaching that do not adequately serve to aid in
a young athlete developing skill, yet are none-the-less common amongst
North American coaches and trainers.


An example of this would be the ‘Command Coach’. Command coaches
presume that the young athlete is a submissive receiver of instruction. The
instructions given and information offered moves in one direction only:
from the coach to the athlete. Coaches who display this habit believe that
coaching success is based on how well the athlete can reproduce the skills
as taught or demonstrated by the coach.


There are also various misappropriations relating to how young athletes
actually learn –

Mirrors – Many coaches believe that young athletes will learn by merely
reflecting the actions and nature of their coach. In this example, the coach
or trainer is the most important figure in the relationship in that the athlete
is a reflection of him or her.


Empty Buckets – Many coaches make the mistake of assuming that young
athletes are akin to an empty bucket in that their heads will fill up with the
information the coach or trainer offers.


Sponges – Much like the ‘Empty Bucket’ notion, very often a coach or
trainer will make the assumption that as they deliver information, a given
young athlete will soak it up unreservedly.


Unfortunately, optimal learning does not occur in any of these ways. These
aforementioned theories fail on several levels:


– Individual differences among athletes’ learning styles are not addressed.
– Varying levels of physical maturity and prior athletic experiences are not considered.
– Does not account for the needs or interests of each individual athlete.
– Fails to recognize that “cognitive processes are important in learning physical skills.


Recently, researchers have underscored the significance of both perception
and decision-making as it relates to information processing and skill development.
The focus has been on “how individuals learn to interpret information in the
environment and use this to make effective decisions about movement execution



2. There appears to be three chronological phases in performance or execution –
(a) Perceiving, (b) Deciding and (c) Acting.


The Perceiving Phase –


During this phase, an athlete is attempting to establish what is happening and
distinguish what information is applicable or valid. For example, a basketball
player just received the ball and must now decipher a series of factors including
the position of both teammates and opponents on the court, the player’s own
position as it relates to the rest of the players as well as the basket and the stage
of the game in relation to the score. Proficient players are able to sort through
the key information quickly and separate it from other stimulus.



The Deciding Phase –


This phase involves the athlete deducing the most appropriate path of action to
take. In the case of our basketball player, that would include the decision to pass,
dribble or shoot and which pass, dribble or shooting action would be the most
suitable given the situation. Clearly, proficient athletes are more effective and
decisive decision-makers.



The Acting Phase –


Neural signals are sent which enlist muscles to carry out the desired task with
suitable timing and adroitness. Although this execution phase is clearly important
to sporting success, it must be understood that it alone is not responsible for on-field
accomplishment. The two preceding phases serve essentially to set up this final stage,
a fact that is often ignored by coaches and trainers who maintain misappropriated
beliefs regarding how young athletes learn.


These three phases are co-dependent and take place in a rapid sequential manner.



– Brian

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