Ten Pillars for successful long-term athletic development


As part of my masters degree, we covered the long term development pathway of athletes from youth to adulthood in detail and I came across the 10 pillars of successful athletic development from Lloyd et al, 2016 and I just adored it. 

I want to share a slightly modified version of this with you to get the ball rolling and then I want to highlight a few key points essential to junior athletic development. 

  1. Long-term athletic development pathways should accommodate for the variety of growth rates and development seen in the youth.  Each individual is on their own journey.
  2. Youth of all ages, abilities and aspirations should engage in long-term athletic development programs that promote both physical fitness and wellbeing.
  3. All youth should be encouraged to enhance physical fitness from early childhood with a primary focus on motor skill and muscular strength development. 
  4. Long-term athletic development should encourage an early sampling approach that prevents early specialisation to enhance a broad range of motor skills.
  5. Health and well-being of the child should always be the central factor of long term athletic development.
  6. Youth should participate in physical conditioning that helps reduce the risk of injury to ensure that their on-going participation.
  7. Development programs should provide all youth with a range of training modes to enhance both health and skill related components of fitness.
  8. Practitioners should use relevant monitoring and assessment tools as part of the long term athletic development strategy.
  9. Practitioners working with youth should individualise training programs for successful development of the athlete. 
  10. Qualified professionals and sound approaches are fundamental to the success of long-term athletic development programs.

Reference: Lloyd et al. J Strength Cond Res 30: 1491-1509, 2016.


Each athlete is on their own developmental pathway

If we break this down, it is essential to acknowledge and realise that each athlete is on their own developmental pathway and everyone isn’t destined to play elite sport into their adult life.  The rewards of participating in sport are numerous to the youth, they improve their motor control, aerobic endurance, strength, balance and coordination.  Yet alone the benefits of enhanced well-being, comradery and mateship, while learning to embrace being part of a team and being part of a bigger picture beyond themselves.

As an athlete develops it is essential for the coaching and training staff to acknowledge the difference between chronological age and biological age.  Teenagers all develop at their own rates and subtle modifications to training programs and sessions may be needed from time to time for an individual as they may have a different training capacity to others. 


Adequate movement competency for their required sport

As the athlete develops and matures the volume and intensity will increase in their training as they gradually develop the capacity to train, eventually with specificity and with the motivation to compete and win.  However, the initial focus must be on motor skill acquisition, movement competency and not specialising too soon on a specific sport.  This will only lead to raised drop-out rates and increased injury rates.  In this phase, it is essential that athletes have adequate movement competency for their required sport.  Do they have enough back mobility to throw a ball properly? Or does the athlete have enough movement in their hips to move quickly through their changes of direction?  Commonly this can be overlooked and when the load increases the athletes can run into trouble either through an incapacity to adjust to the training, or through getting held back by injuries.


Develop the youth athlete through stages

In a nutshell we need to develop the youth athlete through stages, we must develop essential movement and motor control patterns such as the ability to squat, lunge, run, jump, catch and throw a ball.  Then as their capacity to train increases as they age we gradually make the training more specific and targeted to develop them to handle the raised volume and intensity.  Long term athletic development is a pathway and art that aims to embrace sport for health and well-being while guiding athletes towards elite development pathways through a staged process.

Cheers to movement, strength and well-being.

Ross Kinsella



1) Lloyd et al. J Strength Cond Res 30: 1491-1509, 2016.

2) Haff GG. Periodisation strategies for youth development, in: Strength and Conditioning for Youth atheltes: Science and Application. 149-168, 2014.