Thursday, 9 May 2013

Balyi's Long Term Athlete Development Model

Having a LTAD (long term athlete development) model ensures athletes and students optimise their learning and performance for now, and more importantly for the future. Athletes who specialise in a sport too early, have too much competition or haven't mastered their fundamental motor skills will never reach their full potential, will peak late (or not at all), and are more likely to retire early and lose intrinsic motivation.

In this blog I will describe my understanding of each stage of Balyi's LTAD model. I have studied Balyi's model in many other classes and it seems to be the choice when it comes to LTAD models. I have studied other models such as Bompa's generic models, but they have never received as much attention as Balyi. I believe Balyi's model is the optimal chose for a LTAD model if choosing one. Every time I've studied the model there has been a different number of stages noted, sometimes stages are combined, assumed or just not mentioned. I will combine and list all 7 that I know below.

Active Start
This stage isn't mentioned in some literature when describing the Balyi model. This is possibly because it just seen as a precursor to the beginning of the model.
The Active Start stage is people aged 0-6, and is used to develop gross motor skills, build the body, build confidence and self esteem, enhance gross motor skills and develop social skills.

In this stage 6-10 year old people develop their fundamental movement skills through fun games that have a focus on the ABCs; agility, balance, coordination and speed. Correct jumping, running and throwing skills are also a focus of this stage. Ethics, rules and some body weight strength training are introduced at this stage (Balyi, 2001). Children at this stage are encourage to participate in as many sports as possible but the purpose of this stage is to establish the general basis for decision making for later specialisation. There is no periodisation at this stage.

Learning to Train
This stage is designed to be for per-puberty athletes to begin to learn technical and tactical skills and to increase the amount of sessions they perform. Ancillary capacities is introduced at this stage, teaching athletes the importance of warm ups, recovery, focusing, movements, nutrition etc. Athletes are still improving their ABCs and other skills at this stage.

Training to Train
This stage is designed for boys between the ages of 10 and 14 and girls from 10 to 13. In this stage athletes begin to learn the basic skills of a specific sport (Balyi, 2001). The competition to training ratio increase, to around 60:40 or to 75:25 depending on the literature you read. Also these ratios vary depending on the sport and the individual. Athletes are playing to win while in competition but the main learning objective for this stage is to refine the basics of the sport. This age is crucial for development and athletes will never reach their full potential and might develop late if they miss this phase or do it too early (Balyi, 2001).

Training to Compete
This stage is for boys aged from 14 to 18 and girls from 13 to 17. In this stage training and preparation becomes very specialised for individual's needs, strengths and weaknesses. The training to competition ratio increases in this phase to 50:50, with half the training being competition specific training. The other 50% of the training is focused on fitness, and technical and tactical skills (Balyi, 2001).

Training to Win
This phase is for athletes from 17-18+. This phase is all about maximising performance for major competitive events. The volume and intensity are increased to a high level with enough rest to recover and prevent burnout. The competition to training ratio is increased to 25:75, with the training component, as described in the stage above, containing competition specific training. All technical mental, physical, tactical should now all be fully developed and established (Balyi, 2001).

Retirement and Retainment
This stage begins after athletes have retired from a high level of sport, permanently. This begins the chance for ex-athletes to give back to their sport, giving their knowledge and skill in a variety of ways, such as coaching, the media, management etc. (Balyi, 2001). This stage also gives the chance for athletes to enjoy sport at a more informal, less serious level. Example of these less formal situations could be playing the sport with children and family or joining local, social competitions.

Reference List

Balyi, I. (2001). Sport System Building and Long-term Athlete Development in British 
 Columbia Canada: SportsMed, BC.

Photo Credits

 Istvan Balyi (Malmo IdrottsAkademi, Admin)

Wednesday, 8 May 2013

Using Data for Coaching, What's Real?

Is the amount of free, accessible information available on coaching and exercise science today beneficial for us as coaches? or is it just confusing?

Some say that we're currently going through a digital revolution. This has led to unbelievable amounts of information for public access. This would appear to be a device that could only be used to increase the education and understanding of someone wanting to increase their knowledge on a subject. The problem can be that there is too much information, that no matter what conclusions one study might come to, there will be 100 studies contradicting those conclusions.
Also the digital age allows everyone to have their say. In the past only academics and professional would be able to reach the masses with published literature. Now every 2nd person with an internet connection is an expert. This has led to a lot of information out there that is not scientifically significant or true, yet easily leads people to believing it.

Conspiracy theories for example, are usually created and become popular in somewhere like YouTube. There is no actual data or real evidence provided but the creator provide information that draws together coincidences, put some scary music together with some loose physical 'evidence' and suddenly thousands of people are calling for a revolution. In the week 10 lecture we looked at the US wealth distribution video and it was moving and believable for everyone watching it. I even took notes on the 'facts' it provided, thinking it would be referenced to later in the lecture. Keith then revealed that the video had been criticized and the data was determined not to be scientifically significant, or was represent in the wrong way. Funnily enough, a couple weeks later a co-worker of mine burnt me a copy of the new SIRIUS conspiracy theory DVD and it feature the same US wealth distribution video and used it as 'evidence' for their argument. This example shows the amount of convincing, unreliable data out there.

As Wolfram (2002) says, there is so much data, its making basic things very complex. As coaches and teachers I believe we have to stick to what we know and keep it simple. We should rely firstly on personal experience and primary data. If using secondary data, use scientific literature that shows its methods so you can be sure its results are scientifically significant. Meta-analysis can also be used to gain understanding as a coach. These are handy as they collect the bulk of the information for you and sort through all the contradictions to reveal some truths and draw to a conclusion that can hopefully be confirmed and confidently used for guidance. Ultimately what you know and are comfortable with as a coach is important to trust and use. Change is healthy, though don't feel you have to change your coaching philosophy with every bit of new research. The information might not be significant, true or helpful. Use your common sense and trust in what ever thinking is used to guide your teaching and coaching.


 Wolfram, S. (2002). A new kind of science. Champaign, IL: Wolfram Media.

Relationships and their almost 'secret' effect

Relationships amongst team members are so important for sporting success, and thus the ability of a coach to create and sustain relationships in a team is an amazing valuable gift.

During the week 12 practical session, we paired up and in these groups of two, the class completed activities and conversed throughout the lesson. Each pair spent a lot of time talking to each other, getting to know each other and in someway, building a relationship. The class then moved into a game of basketball, with teams of around four being made by joining pairs. When playing the game I noticed more of a flow, more chemistry, and an ease of play when working offensively and defensively with the person I had paired up with previously, much more than my other two teammates.  I didn’t think much of this interaction at the time until we reflected on the lesson at the conclusion of the session. Keith pointed out how the team that was made of majority friends, but had limited basketball skills (graded as ‘Hot’ on our class scale of skill) actually did better than all other teams, and won all their games. Although I still believe there was a decent amount of luck involved in some of those shots (or maybe I’m just a bad loser), I can’t deny the effect relationships appear to have had on that performance, and on all performance. Keith went on to talk of Olympic example of coaches manipulating relationships to better their sporting performance. The learning and events on this day took my mind back to one of my favourite books, The Book of Basketball by Bill Simmons.
The Book of Basketball is a seven hundred page book about basketball, and more specifically the NBA. Bill Simmons, my favourite basketball writer, writes a chapter in this book named, ‘The Secret’. In this chapter Bill talks about the secret of winning championships in the NBA with reference to history, the legends of the game and his large range of knowledge about the game of basketball. The chapter opens, and concludes this topic with a quote from a discussion Bill had with, NBA hall of famer Isiah Thomas;

“The secret of basketball is that it’s not about basketball” (Simmons, 2009, p. 39).

When you compare this quote to quotes from legendary coaches such as John Wooden like, “What you are as a person is far more important than what you are as basketball player”, you can begin to uncover and understand the ‘secret’ to winning that these legends are referring to. Both these example are from basketball but the same dynamics apply to all team sports, and even individual sports for that matter.
The secret Bill and other coaches refer to as an important factor is relationships. Teams with better relationships will perform better than teams with bad team relationships. Teams with good relationships are less selfish, share more and have better team work, which in team sports obviously leads to better performance. Teams with quality relationships have players who care more about the greater good, winning, more so than individual stats and accolades. In Pat Riley’s book, Showtime, he talks about “the disease of more”, where players want more minutes, more shots, more stats, more fame and it disrupts relationships and the team’s chances of winning (Simmons, 2009)

Bill Simmons mentions many examples in his book of skilled teams falling apart because of non-basketball related incidents, which disrupted team relationships. Also mentioned in the book were many examples of teams that knew about the power of relationships and selected teamwork over talent, beating teams with more talent and skill. 

Despite the crucial factor relationships play in sport, Bill Simmons predicts that 90% of NBA decision makers seem to ignore ‘The Secret’. This is somewhat understandable because of the complex nature of relationships and team chemistry. ‘The Secret’ is not tangible or quantitative. You can’t make stats for mentoring, caring, unselfishness, team chemistry etc (Simmons, 2009).
The complex nature of human relationships means coaches need to be very skilled socially at bringing players together, and be able to notice and understand interactions between players. In an interview about one of the greatest coaches of all time, Phil Jackson, Kobe Bryant praised Phil by saying that Phil Jackson was just really good at bringing a group of people together (this video is featured in my Feedback, Perspective and Self Learning blog post). 

Bringing a team together to form quality relationships with each other and yourself won’t be easy or the process clear. An example of when I as a coach made decisions to improve team relationships was seen in my selection of a basketball team. I was at a school at the basketball try-outs session. I had picked or cut all the players needed to make a team except for a split decision I had between two players. I could only choose one of the two players. In the end I ended up choosing the player A who had less basketball experience and skill than player B, but had better relationships with all the players and was more liked and social. Considering we were going to be on the road and playing away I thought the increase comradery, support and team chemistry was more important. We ended up going undefeated to the grand final and beating a much higher skilled team with two national players in their roster, becoming zone champions.

Positively effecting team relationships could be as simple as getting to know your students or athletes and creating a caring environment. Whatever the method it will depend on the individuals and the context so getting to know players is essential. One thing that cannot be denied is that quality relationships are a great influence on sporting performance.

Simmons, B. (2009). The book of basketball. New York: Ballantine/ESPN Books.

Tuesday, 7 May 2013

Developing into an Expert Pedagogue

; The amount of hours it’s said to take to reach expert, professional, elite, autonomous, advanced and just really awesome.

I believe developing into an expert coach or teacher takes years, maybe even a lifetime. There is no fast track way to be an expert at anything, teaching included. We as upcoming coaches and teachers need to understand that to become a good teacher and coach will take lots experience, and more importantly experiences of failing. These experiences can be outside of your career and even unrelated but still cause positive growth and adaptation.

One of my lecturers for a unit on positive psychology used to say, "developing as a teacher is much the same as developing as a person". This is something that touched me and gave me a greater understanding of the multidimensional art of teaching. The fact that teaching (and coaching) is so complex means that there are so many qualities teachers need to be successful. For example they need patience, knowledge, experience, controlled emotions, motivation, confidence etc. These qualities are gained from growing as a human being, which shows the relationship between who you are as a person and abilities in teaching. "What you are as a person is far more important than what you are as a basketball player". This quote from John Wooden also shows that your professional life is always directly related and effected by everything else about you.

If you want to make changes in your teaching it might have to start with changing yourself. Though this will not be easy and will take some time, real change is a slow process. As coach Wooden said, you should make small daily advances and changes to better yourself. These changes will eventually, overtime add up to meaningful, positive change (Horton & Young, 2010). The path to expert is a long one, keep cool and enjoy the journey there. Get to work.

"I studied art. The greats weren't great because at birth they could paint, the greats were great because they painted a lot"-Macklemore.

Monday, 11 March 2013

Sharing vs Competition - My thoughts

The thing I like most about this unit is that is not the same as other coaching units I've done in the past. The almost unorthodox way the unit presents content challenges my ideas and has me questioning my coaching pedagogy each week.

Ive always assumed the more competitive a game, a sport or a league the better the quality and enjoyment of that sport would be. When I play a sport and it gets competitive the game gets exciting; everyone plays their hardest and the results of the game are more important. Competitive spirit also effects sport in a similar way when I'm just watching. When I know two opposing teams really want to beat the other team, or even hate the other team, its always an exciting game to watch.

Some of the ideas in the lectures and practicals this week has challenged my ideas on competition. We need each other to progress, learn and evolve as humans and as athletes (social learning theory). Sports team could all be better if they shared information and helped each other to get better but the intense desire of competition to win stops this sharing of information for fear of making opponents betters. The problems is though if we didn't have any competitive spirit there wouldn't be a want to win and the quality of the game would also decrease.

I found in the pracs on Friday that once we all helped each other with skills we all became better and the fairness of the game became greater too but the competition of the game didn't decrease, in fact i believe it increased. Just like with my example above about watching an exciting game, if one team is obviously less skillful the game isn't competitive or exciting at all.  I think the key is for everyone to share and help each other become better, which will lead to a fairer, better quality of game which in turn will actually make the game more competitive and exciting.

Sunday, 3 March 2013

Feedback, perspective and self learning

As coaches, the feedback we give is one of the most important things we can give or not give our athletes and students. On Friday in the practical class I was selected coach of my team which put in the position to start thinking about what and I'm going to say (feed forward/back).

Feedback and advise is needed to some extent from the coach if the coach is going to provide some help and motivation to the athlete but too much feedback has been shown to produce athletes with a need of extrinsic motivation and dependent on the coach (Schmidt & Wulf, 1996).

I think the key is to give a decent amount of knowledge of results and performance at the beginning levels and then slowly reduce the feedback and have the athlete question their own performance as they progress. At the beginning level of a sport or activity, people need help with knowledge, motivation and an understanding but to be a successful athlete, you need to be able think, motivate and improve by yourself.

When I was coaching my team on Friday I, a basketball player and coach had a lot of things I thought I could say to my players. I had to hold my self back with a lot of things as I didn't want to overwhelm them with information and for them to feel I needed to tell them to do something they knew how to do. I did yell a lot though as the players weren't experienced with basketball and I thought I could motivate and guide them. Saying this I probably still said too much as these were all experienced athletes who understood the fundamentals of invasion games and team sports and could motivate and think for themselves.
If I were to continue to coach this team I would reduce the feedback overtime and provide means for them to being questioning their performance with no feedback from me.  

I don't think a lot of the yelling (feedback/forward) from coaches you see at professional levels is necessary. If you watch most sports the coach will constant be yelling at his team. From what we've just said, this might do more harm then good. These players have been playing the sport their whole lives and probably know exactly what happen and what went right or wrong and why. I think some of this act is because they're in the spot light and people expect them to do it because everyone else does it and it looks like they're not trying if they don't.

"Saying nothing... sometimes says the most" - Emily Dickinson

My favourite coach, and the coach with the most NBA championships (10) Phil Jackson had a zen like approach to his coaching and did sometimes get mad, but for the most part seemed calm, controlled and quite on the bench.

"Believe in your players..... this can be shown in hard times by putting them out there and letting them survive".

Planning programs and coaching to all levels, accepting compromise

Planning programs is rarely straight forward with a 'one size fits all' solution. Everyone is different and changing which means programs should be individualised and progressively changing too. However programs also need to be adaptable, realistic and easily applied to large groups (such as in a PE lesson).

Most athletes and students will have different goals, recovery levels, skills etc. which makes it difficult to individualise training for students in a PE setting or group training session as a coach. We as coaches must except there will always be a difference among athletes and compromise to find the balance. I believe the assets of the players should be identified with the first few training sessions. Using this information a coach can then plan a lesson or practice accordingly. I believe a coach shouldn't teach to optimism the best player or the worst but find a middle point where all players can make improvements and then increase the volume, frequency and intensity of the sessions as the whole class adapts.

For example, if i were running a random style training session (a game) of basketball with a new team I would have to consider ever players fitness in order to have a quality training session and to stimulate a positive training effect. If I knew player A is experienced and plays regularly but player B is new to basketball and hasn't exercised in a while a compromise would have to be made. With a random practice (aiming for encoding specificity) I could, for example, run a game with 7 minute quarters, benching the players such as player B at regular intervals, with player A (and similar players) playing most of every quarter. Regular quarters go for 10 mins which means player A should be able to handle 7 mins straight without overload, though this should be enough volume to cause improvement. A large majority of the players might struggle to play 10 mins straight so 7 mins gives them less volume to recover from. Players such as player B might be overloaded with as little as 7 mins so are taken out of the game at times. As all the players adapt the time and intensity of the quarters can be increased.
All players are within their optimal training zones and should all make adaptions of fitness without being overloaded or effecting the quality of the training session.