Athlete Centered Skating

This blog series came at the request of a parent who asked us if there are any specific stages of development they should focus on different types of training.  This first blog examines different types of stages associated with sports training.  

When discussing the concept of stages of development in sport, several types of stages immediately come to mind.  There are stages of growth and maturation, stages of motor development (the ‘natural’ development of basic motor skills), stages of motor learning, and then there are stages of development within the sport of figure skating which are defined by test levels and competitive trajectories. Coaches integrate these various learning and developmental stages to inform their general coaching methodology.

Stages of growth and Maturation

Stages of growth and maturation refer to specific physical and cognitive stages that all children seemingly pass through in their development (Anderson and Mayo 2017).  Importantly to the discussion of stages and sports, there is an argument that (a) children’s first experiences lay the foundation for how they will perceive the world when they get older (Fox, Levitt, and Nelson III 2010)which relates to how they learn or what they believe training should be and that (b) stages of development exist when children are more sensitive, and adaptable, to different types of training (this notion is discussed more deeply in the upcoming Sensitive and Critical Periods of Development).

Stages of Motor Development

Stages of motor development is a sub-category of growth and maturation and refers to various stages of motor ability that are achieved as children growth and develop (in the absence of specific practice) (Haibach, Reid, and Collier 2011).  During the initial stages, skills are performed with little total body coordination and some movements may even be counterproductive to the intended skill. For example, in a vertical jump, children in the initial stage of development naturally use their arms in a manner that is counterproductive to jumping.  As children mature, their systems will transition through several intermediate stages of coordination.  Eventually, they will settle into a biomechanically mature movement pattern which allows them to perform movements as an adult would.

Stages of Motor Learning

Stages of motor learning represent the process of motor skill acquisition from an intentional learning perspective.  Several models exist in the research literature and, though there is variance, most tend to share key features such as a progression from conscious effort to subconscious effort.  To generalize: when learners are introduced to a motor skill, they need to gain an understanding of how to correctly execute it.  They acquire information about how the skill is done and what to expect as they practice and improve performance.  The skill is disjointed and unstable and the learner is often overwhelmed with many types of information, including declarative knowledge (the ‘what’ and ‘why’), sensory feedback (how the performance ‘feels’), augmented feedback (e.g. what went wrong), and corrections (how to fix it).  All this information competes for and challenges the athlete’s attentional capacity.  In subsequent stages of learning, and as a function of practice, learners master the motor skill.  They zero in on the finishing touches required to attain mastery of the skill and the coach draws their attention to those final features when necessary.  The movements become one fluid skill and are assisted by the elastic components of the athletes’ muscles.  In the final stage, athletes no longer tend to details that previously taxed conscious attention when first learning the skill.

Some more recent stages of motor learning theories [see: (Wulf and Lewthwaite 2016)] argue that learners can actually bypass the initial stages of learning that heavily rely on conscious control and at the same time eliminate part of the cause of ‘choking under pressure’ that many athletes experience. We are big believers in these recent theories and will discuss them in greater detail in the future!

Stages of Athlete Development

Many popular athlete development models were developed in recent years* [for a review of several, please see: (Gulbin et al. 2013)], each of which identifies stages of athletic development that plot the trajectory for athletes within specific sports.  Most models were built through a combination of scientific and experiential wisdom. They have been adopted (and adapted) by national sport governing bodies as well as individual sports organizations worldwide.  Athlete development models acknowledge trajectories for different types of sports that include when to develop general physical abilities, sport specific skills, when to add competition and so on.

Now that we discussed the different types of ‘stages’ that pertain to sports we will move into more detail.  Upcoming blogs in this series will look more closely at sensitive and critical stages of development; a challenge to the notion of ‘stages’; and suggestions from ACSkating on how to navigate your child’s growth and development.

*Some popular athlete development models include: The Athletic Skills Model, Long-Term Athlete Development (LTAD), Foundations, Talent, Elite, Mastery Framework (FTEM), and Expert Performance Approach


Anderson, David I., and Anthony M. Mayo. 2017. “Windows of optimal development.” In Routledge Handbook of Talent Identification and Development in Sport, edited by Joseph Baker, Stephen Cobley, Jorg Schorer and Nick Wattie. New York, NY: Routledge.

Fox, Sharon E, Pat Levitt, and Charles A Nelson III. 2010. “How the timing and quality of early experiences influence the development of brain architecture.” Child development81 (1):28-40.

Gulbin, JP, J Weissensteiner, D Farrow, J Baker, and C MacMahon. 2013. “Functional sport expertise systems.”  Developing sport expertise—researchers and coaches put theory into practice. 2nd edn. London: Routledge:45-67.

Haibach, Pamela, Greg Reid, and Douglas Collier. 2011.Motor learning and development: Human Kinetics.

Wulf, Gabriele, and Rebecca Lewthwaite. 2016. “Optimizing performance through intrinsic motivation and attention for learning: The OPTIMAL theory of motor learning.”  Psychonomic bulletin & review23 (5):1382-1414.