Out of Complexity, find Simplicity: Understanding the Complexities of Athleticism in Youth Sport

In our previous blog we explored the importance of influencing behaviours and shaping the environment to promote positive changes in dietary behaviours with youth athletes. We identified the importance of a nutrition philosophy, instruction for ideal behaviours, consistency in approach and actioning behaviours in practice. In this blog we delve into the field of physical development to explore the concept of athleticism in youth sport, dissecting the definition of athleticism and how we may be able to enhance our practice through this process.

In 2016 the National Strength and Conditioning Association position statement on long-term athletic development defined athleticism as, “…is the ability to repeatedly perform a range of movements with precision and confidence in a variety of environments, which require competent levels of motor skills, strength, power, speed, agility, balance, coordination, and endurance.” Thus, the complexities of developing athleticism in youth athletes become apparent given the extensive and wide range nature of this definition.

The critical aspects of this definition may be:

Repeatedly perform – The development of athleticism may require reliability in the skills and/or capacities to perform a given task. This may require purposeful, deliberate and consistent practice and exposure to such tasks. Thus, athleticism may take time to be presented in an individual.

Precision and confidence – The development of athleticism can occur above and below the neck. Athleticism has physical skills and capacities which are often clear to see and define one’s perception of athleticism. However, athleticism may also reside in an individual’s willingness and desire to express their physical skills and capacities, i.e. skills and capacities above the neck.

Variety of environments – The development of athleticism should be the responsibility of many and not a few. From physical training practitioners to physiotherapists to sports coaches, we can all contribute to the deliberate development of athleticism within the context and opportunities provided by our practice.

Competent levels – The development of athleticism can be referenced against individual and/or cohort norms to establish the degree to which competency has been expressed or is developing. These norms may be in the form of products (outcomes of physical/psychological attributes of athleticism, i.e. how far or how fast) or processes (how individuals achieve the outcome they have attained, i.e. technical execution).

Skills, strength, power, speed, agility, balance, coordination and endurance – The development of athleticism spans a wide range of physical qualities. Within each quality or identified qualities, profiling for competent levels of outcomes or processes may help support a more coherent and targeted approach to training.

Taken collectively, athleticism is complex term which spans both physical and psychological domains, a range of attributes and environments and may be profiled against outcomes and processes. Given this, an important part of the development process in supporting athleticism in youth sport may be gaining collective insight and agreement on a working definition of athleticism based on the opportunities and constraints of your coaching environment. Collaboration in defining and deliberately developing athleticism may be utopia in supporting the development of physical and psychological skills and capacities related to athleticism in youth athletes.

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