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The Impact of Age on Player Development

By Minnesota Hockey, 12/11/12, 11:15AM CST

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Long Term Athlete Development (LTAD) emphasizes a focus on development instead of evaluation and classification


Mario Lucia (Plymouth) is one on three Minnesota players to make the preliminary roster for the 2013 US World Junior Team

USA Hockey recently released the preliminary roster for the 2013 US National Junior Team that will compete in the IIHF World Junior Championship later this month. Hockey fans are often quick to point out which players on the roster are from Minnesota (Mike Reilly, Brady Skjei, and Mario Lucia), their favorite collegiate conference (five from the WCHA) or NHL draft picks to keep an eye on (Lucia was a second round pick by the Minnesota Wild in 2011).

Few people will notice an interesting trend in our development system.  Of the 27 players on the roster, almost half of them (13) were born in January, February or March and only two were born in the last three months of the year. It seems highly unlikely that kids born earlier in the calendar year are predisposed to higher levels of athletic potential so the question becomes, is it a fluke?

Looking at the rosters of other US National teams, you can see similar results. Disproportionate numbers of players were born in the first three to six months of the year. Research1 has also supported this phenomenon, in which players with early birthdays seem to have the leg up when it comes time for evaluation.

Biological v Chronological Age

In our current system, the age of a player can have a significant impact on their development. Chronological age, or the year a player was born, determines which level a player can participate and which high performance teams he or she is eligible for. Kids with birthdays early in the calendar year often have a step up on the rest of the kids when it comes to development.

“Kids that are a little older have an advantage in getting picked to select teams,” states Bob Driver, Minnesota ACE Coordinator and ADM Liaison. “They have simply had more time to develop and mature.”

Biological age, or how fast the player physically matures, can also influence development. Two eleven year old athletes may be as much as four or five years apart in terms of physical maturation. This gives kids that mature at an early age a distinct advantage.

“Each kid develops differently,” points out Driver. “Early developers are more likely to be noticed and given additional opportunities to become better players.”

There will always be kids that reap the benefits of having an early birthday or developing ahead of their peers. The important thing for coaches is to level the playing field by helping all kids develop.

 “All youth players have potential,” stresses Driver. “We don’t really see their actual ability until much later in the development process. It is critical that coaches stay patient. We can’t have associations classifying kids at too early an age. The goal should be to have as many kids developmentally ready as possible.”


"Treating our eight year olds like high schools players isn't good for their development or keeping them in the game" -Ken Martel, Director of ADM for USA Hockey

Age Appropriate Training

Although it may be best for coaches to forget about players’ age when projecting future ability, the opposite is true with their training programs. Kids have been shown to have periods during their physical development in which they are capable of accelerated adaptation to training, making age an important consideration for all coaches.  

“The bottom line with long term athlete development (LTAD) is the importance of understanding that athletes are better able to attain certain aspects of the game at certain ages,” emphasizes Driver.

Most parents and coaches are familiar with periods of accelerated growth or growth spurts, but over the course of a child’s development, his or her rate of growth fluctuates considerably.  As the child’s growth rate varies, there are corresponding windows of trainability. Utilizing these optimum training windows is essential to maximizing a player’s potential.

ADM provides the following guidelines for age-appropriate training:

  • Suppleness (Flexibility): Optimal trainability for suppleness for both genders occurs between the ages of 6 and 10. Special attention should be paid to flexibility during PHV.
  • Strength: Optimal trainability for girls is immediately after PHV or at the onset of the menarche, while for boys it is 12-18 months after PHV.
  • Speed: For boys, the first speed-training window occurs between the ages of 7 and 9 years and the second window occurs between the ages of 13 and 16. For girls, the first speed training window occurs between the ages of 6 and 8 years and the second window occurs between the ages of 11 and 13 years.
  • Skill: The window for optimal skill training for boys takes place between the ages of 9 and 12 and between the ages of 8 and 11 for girls.
  • Stamina (Endurance): Optimal trainability occurs at the onset of peak height velocity (PHV). This is more commonly known as the adolescent growth spurt. Aerobic capacity training is recommended before athletes reach PHV. Aerobic power should be introduced progressively after growth rate decelerates.

“Coaches need to gear practices to these windows,” expresses Driver. “Even better, try to be comprehensive with your practices so players of all maturity levels have a chance to work on skills within their optimized windows.”

ADM recommends capitalizing on optimal training windows by raising the practice to game ratio, increasing repetitions during practice, and limiting the time spent in line.

Remember that kids need a break too. This is where playing multiple sports is really beneficial. Kids can continue their age-appropriate training and development while avoiding burnout and preserving a passion for the game.

Play, love, excel. That’s the ADM.

This is the third in a series of articles designed to provide coaches, administrators, parents, and players with a better understanding of the principles of ADM.  Stay tuned for more details on the main training guidelines of LTAD.

 

 

1Sherar, L. B., Baxter-Jones, A. D. G., Faulkner, R. A., & Russell, K. W. (2007). Do physical maturity and birth date predict talent in male youth ice hockey players? Journal of Sport Sciences, 25(8), 879-886. doi: 10.1080/02640410600908001

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