This tutorial is guest blogged by Mike Goss, CSCS, and Level II USATF, jumps, throws, and combined events. Mike is also in the Coaches Advisory for USATF-GA.
Click here for all articles written by Mike Goss.
This is Part 1.
Nature, Nurture, and Window of Opportunity
Testing Youth for Athletic Ability
The design and implementation of tests for athletic ability have simple and complex implications. Chronological and biological age are factors. Sports participation and physical activity are components affecting the development of motor abilities. Track and Field places athletes “center stage.” Individual skills are paramount; “Faster, Higher, Stronger” is the central theme. Although a simple idea, discovery and development of talent is important as with other team and individual sports.
Relative Age Effect (RAE) plays a major role in developing young athletes.
RAE refers to the month one is born. Athletes with early birth dates tend to have an advantage. This factor typically leads to a larger, stronger, and faster athlete as compared to those born later in the year. There are exceptions, but the RAE is a proven developmental factor in progressing young athletes.1
Studies in youth soccer and age group (Canadian) ice hockey have been documented to demonstrate the advantages of older athletes. Among these athletes (though in the same age group classification) there is often the following:
- Higher levels of physical maturity
- Higher levels of competition
- More opportunities to play (starters versus substitutes)
- Privilege to work with advanced coaches
- Greater training programs (intensity, duration, skill sets)
The above factors create a snow ball effect; the older athletes, who often tend to be more mature, have a natural advantage leading toward advanced training and competition. A study of the birth dates within the NHL is similar to the youth hockey and soccer study. Much fewer athletes born from April – December, compared to those born early in the year, progress to high level youth teams. Soccer has a similar situation in its most talented organizations. The early birth date theory has been challenged. Yet, the training of older athletes has advantages not afforded many of their younger counterparts.2
COMPARING THE US WITH EASTERN EUROPE
The Cold War was not only a political cauldron of unrest and conflicting ideology.
Athletics were also forefront considering “What’s the best system for athletic supremacy?”
This might be an amusing topic to many, but the sociology of sport is closely tied to cultural and social systems, East and West. Following are points of consideration comparing the USA, Eastern Europe, and Australian sports programs.
The USA places a major emphasis in specialization of prepubescent and pubescent athletes
1. Intensified sport specific training (personal trainers and position/event coaches)
- pitching coaches, batting coaches, specific conditioning trainers
- sport camps (all age groups)
- Sports Medicine (chiropractic, movement analysis, orthopedic modalities)
2. Early identification for specific positions/events
- stereotyping an athlete based on height, weight, and early success at specific skills
- limiting the development of other skills (sprinters sprint, jumpers only jump)
Repercussions with specialization at early stages of training/age:
- higher rates of overuse injuries; elbows, knees, shoulders
- years of growth from prepubescence to pubescence may include significant changes in height, weight, and biomotor abilities
- a rise in ACL and elbow ligament tears requiring surgery
According to Fransen participants in several sports perform better than those who specialize, this includes skill testing. ex. standing long jump 3
The USATF coaches education program centers much of it’s curriculum on the 5 basic biomotor abilities:
- Flexibility 4
Many of the USA’s fitness tests, Presidential Youth Fitness Test and Fitness Gram, are available for evaluation. http://exrx.net
*Ex.Rx is a website with a wide variety of tests and scores
YOUTH DEVELOPMENT IN EASTERN EUROPE
East European countries incorporate a multifaceted system. Participation in a variety of sports and fitness activities is encouraged; only 5-10% of the training is specific sports development.
Below are the (East European) findings regarding sports specialization:
- Best performances at 15-16 yrs.
- Inconsistent competition
- Age of burnout at 18 yrs.
- High rate of overuse injury
The multilateral program produced consistent performance:
- The best sports performance was after age 18
- Athletes more comfortable with the sport
- Lower injury rate 5
AUSTRALIA’S TESTING FOR ATHLETIC ABILITY
Testing for athletics (12-29yrs. old), team and individual sports, involve similar evaluations:
- Vertical jump ( standing and from 1-2 steps)
- Sprinting (10 – 40 meters); objective depending upon test goals
Below is a basic test for Athletics (track and field) from Australia:
- Endurance – standing height, body mass, 1.6 km run
- Jumps – standing height, body mass, standing long jump, vertical jump
- Sprints – standing height, body mass, vertical jump, 60M sprint
- Throws – standing height, body mass, vertical jump, 4-6K shot throw-between legs fwd. and overhead backwards.
The above test is available to 12 – 29 year olds (Australia). An interactive website provides a scoring grid. If the scores are above average, the athlete is encouraged to visit a Talent Assessment Center (TAC). Individuals are then targeted to specific programs and coaches. 6
SAMPLE – VERTICAL JUMP TESTING – PERCENTILE RANKS
13-14 yr. old boys – (inches) – 10-20% 12.3-13.8 in.
30-40% 15-16 in – 50% 17in. – 60-70% 18-19 in. – 80-90% 20-21 in. 7
AUSTRALIAN INSTITUTE OF SPORT – FITNESS TEST
- Multistage shuttle run
- 40 meter sprint
- Lateral jump
- Vertical jump
- 5 meter shuttle run
- Small ball throw
- Basketball throw
- Sit ups
- Push up
The above test can be viewed at http://www.ais.org.au/talent
It includes the norms and explanation of testing procedure and specific abilities 8
End of Part 1. Part 2 will be published tomorrow.