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Athlete development starts young, ends active

Parents, athletes, coaches invited to Canadian Sport for Life seminar

By Andrew Mitchell

It has been estimated that it takes a minimum of 10 years or 10,000 hours of dedicated training to become an elite, Olympic-calibre athlete. But that’s not entirely the point of a new program launched by Canadian Sport Centres called Canadian Sport For Life.

CSFL is a seven-stage program for athlete development, starting at the very youngest ages. Each level represents a different stage in an athletes’ physical, mental, emotional and cognitive development. There are also stages for adaptive athletes with a wide range of disabilities.

Children and adolescents are the main focus of the program as those years are crucial to developing future champions, although the long-term goal of the program is to ensure that Canadians remain active their entire lives.

The new program will be introduced in Whistler on Friday, June 22, 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. at the Whistler Mountain Ski Club cabin. PacificSport Sea to Sky, which represents Canadian Sport Centres regionally, has enlisted provincial sport performance director and strength and conditioning specialist Cindy Thomson to explain to the public how the program works. The event is free to the public, and recommended for all coaches, parents, physical educators, and everyone involved in sport.

“This is the system that Canada is using to make sure there’s a straight line of integration between the national, provincial and regional sport systems for every sport,” explained Tami Mitchell, regional coordinator for PacificSport Sea to Sky. “This is not only for high performance athletes, it’s also about active living. Of the seven stages of this plan the last is about staying active after your days of competitive sports may be over.”

Sports organizations and athletes at every level were consulted in creating the CSFL framework, and it will serve as the backbone for all sport organizations as they establish their own coaching certifications and development guidelines.

The first stage of the program is called Active Start, referring to kids aged 6 and under. This stage emphasizes the general physical and mental benefits of physical activity, and includes a list of general guidelines for parents and recreational organizations to get kids active. There is also an emphasis on basic skills development, including the basics of running, jumping, twisting, wheeling, kicking, throwing and catching.

The FUNdamental stage is geared for boys 6 to 9 and girls 6 to 8, ages when most kids master the fundamental movements required by sports and begin to focus more on skills development. It’s at this age where athletes can be taught the proper techniques and can start to be identified as potential high performance athletes on the basis of their trainability. It’s also the age where kids should play a wide range of sports and will begin to compete in their preferred sports.

The Learning to Train stage is for male athletes 9 to 12 and females 8 to 11, which is the optimal window to develop motor coordination and the stage at which athletes begin to train regularly. At this point kids should be training 70 per cent of the time and competing 30 per cent of the time, with training focusing on basics like strength development, endurance, flexibility, speed, and agility. This is also the stage when children should be encouraged to narrow their focus to three preferred sports, and where the basic development goals of sports organizations are brought into play.

The Training to Train stage is for males aged 12 to 16 and females 11 to 15, although factors like growth, maturity, and skill levels are more important to development than age. Teens will begin to build aerobic fitness near the beginning, adding speed and strength as they progress. They will also begin to consolidate their sport specific skills.

Because athletes in this stage are still growing physically and mentally, there is also an emphasis on stretching and flexibility to prevent injury, as well as coping with mental and physical challenges. As well, competitive athletes focus on just two sports with the aid of talent identification programs, and should maintain about a 60-40 training-to-competition ratio.

Training to Compete is geared to males 16 to 23 and Females 15 to 21, with an emphasis on optimizing fitness, sport-specific skills, and performance. At this stage athletes are typically training year-round for one sport, and devoting about 40 per cent of their time to improving fitness and refining skills, and 60 per cent of their time to competition and competition-specific training.

Training to Win is for males 19 and over and females 18 and over, and is focused on giving high performance athletes the ability to compete at a world class level. All of an athlete’s physical, tactical, mental and lifestyle capacities are established at this point and the focus of training is on maximizing performance.

The very last stage is Active For Life. Most people who compete recreationally will skip some of the more specialized training stages, but one of the goals of the program is to ensure that all athletes, recreational and international, remain active through their lives. To this end, the CSFL framework encourages people to try new sports at every level, shift from competitive sports to recreational activities, remain in competitive sports tailored for their age groups, and move from competitive sport into coaching, officiating, and sports administration.

Presenter Cindy Thompson is a professional coach with her Master’s degree in coaching studies from the University of Victoria, and was the strength and conditioning coach from 2000 to 2004 for the national freestyle aerials team. Her other credits include 11 years as an alpine technical coach, and a stint with the Chinese aerials team leading up to and through the 2006 Olympic Winter Games.

PacificSport Sea to Sky is also hosting a pair of coaching events during June.

From June 15 to 16, PacificSport is hosting a Level NCCP Theory Course, which is a prerequisite for all coaching certification levels. You can register through the Meadow Park Sports Centre at the front desk, or by calling 604-935-PLAY (7529).

From June 23 to 24, PacificSport is hosting an Olympic Weightlifting Certification Level 1 course, which is required to coach weightlifting as cross-training for any sport. If you would like to take part, contact Tami Mitchell at 604-905-6797 or .