LONG-TERM ATHLETE DEVELOPMENT
Ask anyone why they participate in gymnastics, and they will tell you that it is FUN.
Regardless of your age or ability, it really is fun to learn challenging new skills, to play on interesting equipment, to do exciting routines in a group or to perform in a demonstration or competition.
Gymnastics is also about ‘how the body moves’ and therefore is the Foundation Sport for all physical activity and sports. Early participation in gymnastics develops the most fundamental movement skills, physical and motor abilities, mental abilities, social and emotional abilities, and performance skills that carry over into all aspects of life. Gymnastics is the perfect activity for the development of Physical Literacy – the fundamentals of moving the body and moving objects. Physical literacy enables people of all ages to move confidently and efficiently in any environment that presents a physical challenge. It is an important life skill, and the benefits of physical literacy go far beyond sport participation. All children must be active from their earliest days so that they develop physical literacy, which will enable them to enjoy healthy, active lifestyles, and a variety of movement activities. Some of these children will certainly go on to become the Olympic champions of the future. But the majority will go on to lead active lives, will continue to enjoy doing gymnastics and will be well equipped to pursue any other sport or activity that they choose.
Success in gymnastics is the result of many years of extensive planning and preparation by coaches, clubs, parents, and other supporting partners. Long term development applies to all levels of participants and in all gymnastics disciplines. The most successful long term development programs are the result of full system integration and alignment, with all partners working together in the best interest of the participant.
Early exposure to gymnastics activities should be one of the first steps for all children on the road to physical literacy. The optimal time for the development of physical literacy is during the first 10 years of a child’s life. From their earliest days, all children should have opportunities to participate in many activities, under the guidance of trained instructors, teachers, and coaches.
Canadian gymnastics has a well-earned international reputation for excellence. Canadian gymnasts are Olympic and Commonwealth Champions, World Championship medallists and Special Olympics World Games medallists. Canadian programs for coaching education and athlete development are recognized around the world and are the foundation for several other international programs. Our athletes, our programs and our successes are the result of many years of planning and development.
We know that success does not happen by chance. Research has shown that it takes 10 years of deliberate practice for an athlete to reach elite levels. For this preparation to be most effective, an athlete should first have a solid base of fundamental movement patterns and fundamental gymnastic skills, which equate to physical literacy.
Many children attain inadequate amounts of physical activity with the result that they are overweight, in poor physical condition, and have poorly developed movement skills. The decline in school physical education programs, and an increased trend to inactive leisure activities have combined to produce a generation where too many children are physically underdeveloped leading to a near-certainty for long term health problems. Change is certainly needed, and the vehicle for change is a Long Term Athlete Development (LTAD) Framework. LTAD supports the four goals of the Canadian Sport policy:
- Enhanced Participation
- Enhanced Excellence
- Enhanced Capacity
- Enhanced Interaction.
LTAD reflects a commitment to contribute to the achievement of these goals. LTAD has been successfully adopted by numerous Canadian and international sport organizations. It is participant-centred, coach-driven, and administration, sport science, and sponsor supported. Athletes who progress through the stages of LTAD experience instruction, training, and competition in programs that have been developed in consideration of their specific biological and developmental needs.
Of the over 250,000 registered gymnasts in Canada, only a very small percentage will ever take part in a competition. Over 90% of Canadian gymnasts come to a club for one hour of recreational classes per week, where they learn the basic body movement patterns that are part of physical literacy. Everyone in gymnastics has the responsibility to ensure that all of our participants have a positive experience. We must ensure that our programs can meet the particular developmental needs of ALL gymnasts. We must ensure that all participants have FUN with gymnastics, gain FITNESS through gymnastics, and learn sound FUNDAMENTALS of gymnastics, regardless of age, ability or level of performance.