Athlete Centered Skating

“Today you are You, that is truer than true. There is no one alive who is Youer than You.”

― Dr. Seuss, Happy Birthday to You!

This blog discusses one of the distinctions between athlete and traditional coach centered training environments: programming.  An athlete centered environment recognizes that the skillset and developmental trajectory of each athlete is unique.  Programming is personalized to the individual needs of each athlete.  Traditional training programs are “one-size-fits-all”. Each athlete must accommodate the same prerequisites, the same progression, and the same style of learning. Accordingly, each athlete must adapt to the needs of the program.

Traditional Training Programs

Traditional one-size-fits-all programs are intriguing because they tend to display organization in protocols and procedures (e.g. “this is what to expect”) and offer a full spectrum of services that every athlete supposedly needs and therein lies the deception: the program appears to provide everything an athlete could dream of except for the most crucial detail: what does the program do for the athlete?

According to a recent consensus statement from the International Olympic Committee (Bergeron et al. 2015): “appropriate athletic development… is far too complex to be distilled into a singular, universally accepted process (p. 06).”  There is no proven single approach to train athletes that works better than others and though there has been a quest to find the mythical pathway to success in the research literature [see: (Ericsson, Starkes, and Ericsson 2003, Starkes and Ericsson 2003)for example], the modern consensus is that there simply is no guaranteed ‘best way’ all athletes must train (Baker, Cobley, and Schorer 2017, Davids et al. 2013, Phillips et al. 2010).

Athlete Centered Training Programs

The position statement from the International Olympic Committee (IOC) states that athlete development programs should be multidimensional, flexible, inclusive, and integrated (Bergeron et al. 2015).  As Doctor Seuss proclaimed 60 years ago (in the quote provided above), we are all unique – our goals, our motivations, the way we learn, what constitutes an optimal training load, what factors satisfy our basic psychological needs and so on.

Athlete centered programming adapts to the needs of individuals and this allows athletes to follow their own pathways to reach peak athletic potential.  To adapt, the program should be interested in more than day-to-day lessons.  Coaches should assess where the athletes were before; what challenges they circumnavigated to get where they are; current skillsets; and where they want to go in the future.  To take assessment a step further, athletes should be involved in their own self-assessment (a skill to be developed) as well (look for an upcoming blog on assessment for learning).

Coaches use the information gathered from these assessments to make unique adjustments within the program to accommodate each athlete.  Some athletes might require more strength training, others more psychological training, and still others more ballet and dance and others less.  Some might work best on a five-day schedule and others a six. Some might thrive from more vigorous training and others from less.  Some may need time to think about and process what has been learned, while others might integrate the information right away.

Finally, there should always be one universal consideration included in the programming for any athlete: while individuals certainly learn in different ways, each athlete must learn howto learn first and foremost.  This consideration must be included in all assessments because it is crucial for athletes to drive their own progress with support from the program to facilitate (rather than prescribe) progress.


Baker, Joseph, Stephen Cobley, and Jorg Schorer. 2017. Routledge Handbook of Talent Identification and Development in Sport: Taylor & Francis.

Bergeron, Michael F, Margo Mountjoy, Neil Armstrong, Michael Chia, Jean Côté, Carolyn A Emery, Avery Faigenbaum, Gary Hall, Susi Kriemler, and Michel Léglise. 2015. “International Olympic Committee consensus statement on youth athletic development.”  Br J Sports Med49 (13):843-851.

Bompa, Tudor O. 2000. Total training for young champions: Human Kinetics.

Bompa, Tudor O, and G Gregory Haff. 2009. Periodization: Theory and methodology of training: Human Kinetics Publishers.

Davids, Keith, Duarte Araújo, Luis Vilar, Ian Renshaw, and Ross Pinder. 2013. “An ecological dynamics approach to skill acquisition: Implications for development of talent in sport.”  Talent Development & Excellence5 (1):21-34.

Ericsson, K Anders, JL Starkes, and KA Ericsson. 2003. “Development of elite performance and deliberate practice.”  Expert performance in sports: Advances in research on sport expertise:49-83.

Phillips, Elissa, Keith Davids, Ian Renshaw, and Marc Portus. 2010. “Expert performance in sport and the dynamics of talent development.”  Sports Medicine40 (4):271-283.

Starkes, Janet L, and Karl Anders Ericsson. 2003. Expert performance in sports: Advances in research on sport expertise: Human Kinetics.

Weissensteiner, Juanita R. 2017. “How contemporary international perspectives have consolidated a best-practice approach for identifying and developing sport talent.” In Routledge Handbook of Talent Identification and Development in Sport, edited by Joseph Baker, Stephen Cobley, Jorg Schorer and Nick Wattie. London: Routledge.

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