The Stages of Long-Term Development in Sport & Physical Activity

There are seven stages to the model; but, not all individuals need all seven stages. In fact, most individuals complete the foundational stages and move into the active for life stage. Those who are wanting to compete at higher levels of sport or activity have a different pathway that can be found within the framework. All descriptions are from the Long-Term Development in Sport and Physical Activity Framework

Overview of the Foundation

The foundation consists of the first three stages: Active Start, FUNdamentals and Learn to Train. They are designed to give the best possible start in sport and physical activity. 

Children pass through these stages in large part simply because they are growing and developing. Adults when learning a new sport or physical activity pass through the FUNdamentals and Learn to Train stages. The transition from stage to stage is therefore developmentally based. 

 

Active Start Stage

Males and females: birth to approximately six years of age. 

Begin the physical literacy journey:

  • Activity and movement skills development. 

  • Focus on developing locomotor, object manipulation and balance skills on land, water, ice/snow and in the air in a variety of movements. 

  • Meet the 24-hour movement guidelines for young children of being active for 180 minutes/day. 

  • Encourage play that is structured (adult-led, unstructured (child-led) and opportunities for play in a natural environment. 

 
  • Include activities that develop executive function: working memory, cognitive flexibility and building of self-control. 

  • Provide a series of challenges with both successes and failures to help develop better confidence. 

  • Exploration of risks and limits in a safe environment - including outdoor play in nature. 

  • Active movement environment combined with well-structured gymnastics and swimming programs. Outside play on snow and ice. 

  • Create mini-challenges to extend children's comfort range. 

  • Ensure activities are fun and allow for social connectedness. 

FUNdamentals Stage

Boys approx. 6-9 years & girls approx. 6-8 years.  

Further development of physical literacy

  • Develop fundamental movement skills with emphasis on participation and having FUN on a daily basis. 

  • Emphasize activities that develop agility, balance, coordination and speed - the ABCs. 

  • Encourage running, jumping, wheeling, throwing and catching, as well as activities in and on different surfaces (water, ice and snow). 

  • No periodization, but well-structured programs. 

 
  • Build up physical capacities through medicine ball, Swiss ball and own body-weight strength exercises. 

  • Introduce simple rules and etiquette of sport, with a focus on fair play and respect for others. 

  • Continue to build executive function with focus on: building working memory, increasing mental flexibility and strengthening inhibition control. 

  • Provide and respect children's activity choices. 

  • Competition should be informal with no record of results. 

Learn to Train Stage

Boys from approx. 9 & girls from approx. 8: to onset of an adolescent growth spurt

Continue to develop physical literacy

  • Brain and body primed for skill acquisition. Build fundamental skills in a wide range of sports and activities (on the ground, in water, in air, on ice/snow) before entering the Train to Train stage. 

  • Ensure the environment promotes and supports fun and friendship. 

  • Avoid early over-specialization.  

  • Single or double periodization. 

 
  • Take into account individuals' variations in physical, psychological, cognitive, emotional and moral development. 

  • Build up physical capacities through medicine ball, Swiss ball, and own body-weight strength exercises, with additional focus on building flexibility and arm/leg speed. 

  • Introduce ancillary capacities: warm-up/cool down, nutrition, hydration and recovery including sleep and mental preparation such as anxiety control. 

  • Informal talent identification with the opportunity to move participants to an enriched training environment. 

  • Introduction to formal local competition, with emphasis on fair play and opportunities to try different events or positions. 

  • Sport-specific training three times per week plus participation in other sports or activities three times a week. 

Train to Train Stage

Period of the adolescent growth spurt. Around 11-15 for females & 12-16 for males. 

A critical stage in the development of high-performance athletes. During this stage participants typically:

  • Commit to high performance and begin their journey on their sport's Podium Pathway, or 

  • Enter Competitive for Life or Fit for Life in their sport or sports of choice, or 

  • Drop out of sport.  

  • For those on their sport's Podium Pathway, this is the stage for tremendous skill refinement and for greater position/event specialization. 

 
  • Major fitness development stage: aerobic and strength. The onset of the adolescent growth spurt and the time of Peak Height Velocity (PHV) are key markers and growth must be tracked. The stage for the development of whole-body speed. 

  • Cultivate life skills. 

  • Ensure the environment promotes and supports fun and friendship. 

  • Introduce free weights with emphasis on correct technique. 

  • Greater attention to mental preparation. 

  • Develop an ethical approach to sport including respect for opponents and fair play and commitment to doping-free sport. 

  • Formalized competition and standings/rankings. 

  • Build ancillary capacities and sport-life balance. 

  • Single or double periodization. 

  • Sport-specific training six to nine times per week including complimentary sports.

Active for Life Stage

The overwhelming majority of people playing just about any sport fall into the Active for Life stage. Having built a solid foundation in the first three stages of the framework, they progress to playing the sport or sports of their choice for enjoyment, satisfaction or for the health benefits they obtain. Some compete in organized sport, while others do not. 

 

  • Competitive for Life is the phase of Active for Life for those who compete within the formal structure of their sport. It differs from Fit for Life because competitive athletes are striving to improve and win, and they train accordingly. 

  • Fit for Life is the phase for those who participate simply because they get satisfaction from sport or physical activity. They may, from time to time, compete at a recreational level, but that is not their primary purpose. Fit for Life also describes those who engage in non-sporting physical activity. 

  • Sport and Physical Activity Leaders include those individuals who contribute in ways other than being an athlete or participant in the sport or activity itself, such as coaches and instructors, officials, administrators and those involved in sport science and medicine. 

 

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