Athlete Centered Skating

Recently, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) released a consensus statement on youth athletic development (Bergeron et al. 2015).  The IOC evaluated the current state of science and practice of worldwide youth athlete development and, in the consensus, present recommendations for youth sport governing bodies and practitioners (that’s us) to embrace and implement to make youth sport a more positive and effective experience.  In this blog we discuss some dialogue in the consensus statement including how we currently implement the principles set forth by the IOC in our athlete centered approach to figure skating.

The consensus statement first defines the goal of youth sport programming:

“Develop healthy, capable and resilient young athletes, while attaining widespread, inclusive, sustainable and enjoyable participation and success for all levels of individual athletic achievement (pg 01).”

They report that though this goal is clear, achieving it is challenging and that talent identification and development (TID) programs in the past have been reported to be only moderately successful at best [even the notorious programs of the Soviet Union and East Germany, despite having great success, retained very low predictive values [see these references for similar conclusions: (Phillips et al. 2010, Renshaw et al. 2012, MacNamara and Collins 2012, Cobley and Till 2017, Gullich and Cobley 2017)and (Smolianov, Zakus, and Gallo 2014) for detailed discussion].

The IOC consensus statement reviews key topics related to youth sports and athlete development.  First, it discusses topics related to biological maturation such as maturity status, skeletal age, maturity timing, and peak height velocity. Biological maturity has implications for the individual biological developmental trajectories of each athlete which concern physiological and performance (e.g. muscle metabolism, muscle strength, anaerobic and aerobic fitness, fatigue resistance and recovery, responses to exercise training) changes across maturation.

The statement then reviews challenges to health, well-being and performance in athlete development.  It discusses the early specialization trend witnessed in all youth sports (but recognizes figure skating as a “customary” early specialization sport) and the various factors that may contribute to this trend; injury and health concerns of systematic training and competition; injury rates and prevention strategies; psychological overload from excessive demands and expectations; and safeguarding youth athletes from physical and psychological abuse in sport.

The consensus statement then reviews current athlete development frameworks.  There are a handful currently implemented by sporting organizations worldwide including the Athletic Skills Model (endorsed by the famous Ajax soccer club in Amsterdam) (Wormhoudt et al. in preparation), the Long-Term Athlete Development Model (LTAD) implemented in Canada and several other English speaking countries, and the FTEM framework implemented by the Australian Institute of Sport (AIS) (Gulbin et al. 2013).  For reviews of these frameworks, please see: (Gulbin and Weissensteiner 2013,Baker, Cobley, and Schorer 2013).

Next we will discuss the IOC recommendations for youth athletic development presented in the paper in the form of so-called “guiding principles.”  They provide general principles; coaching principles; conditioning, testing, and injury prevention principles; nutrition, hydration and exertional heat illness principles; and lastly, sport and sports medicine governing bodies and organizations principles.  I will highlight some of these principles below.

General Principles

The general principles state that youth athlete development must be considered at the individual level in that every athlete’s trajectory (e.g. growth and maturation) will be unique and that these trajectories will remain in a continuous but nonlinear flux.  Accordingly, TID frameworks (discussed above) must be flexible to accommodate such individualized trajectories.  They call for a wider definition of sport success “as indicated by healthy, meaningful and varied life-forming experiences, which is centered on the wholeathlete and development of theperson (pg 08, italics theirs).” These are all references to concepts of systems thinking, which considers that the whole is more (or at least different) than the sum of its parts and that development is continuous but nonlinear.

Another key point in the general references is the commitment to the psychological development of resilient and adaptable athletes with high self-regulation. These psychological constructs are vital components Athlete Centered Skating instruction and we are happy to see the IOC acknowledging them in the consensus statement.

The general principles also discuss the need to consider, across the entire athletic development pathway, the need to assist athletes in effectively managing sport-life balance to be better prepared for life after sport.  The implementation of psychological development is an important foundation for this point because adaptability and self-regulation are qualities that athletes can apply to other endeavors outside sport. We consider the sport-life balance in our programming and offer lifelong mentorship to our skaters, recommendation letters for schools and work opportunities, and feel that a capable athlete is one who has balance in his or her life.

In part 2 we will discuss the coaching principles outlined by the IOC statement.