Phases of Development
Though practical for the organization of competition, the grouping of athletes and designing of their training programs purely by age is not always the best approach. The USSA Training Systems demand an individualized approach to training and competition that goes beyond a traditional age class view to consider an athlete's biological age and their training age.
An athlete's biological age is individual and is based on their physiological development. Starting at around age 9 or 10, different athletes of the same age may be in different stages of physical maturity. At the heart of junior development, from ages 10-17, athletes may vary up to five years in their physical development from their same-age peers. To maximize athletic development for skiing and snowboarding, training should be designed based on the biological age of the skier. Different maturation rates can also play a large role in competition outcomes at these ages.
Determining an athlete's biological age is not difficult, as it coincides with growth rates. Click here to track growth and determine an athlete's biological age.
An athlete's experience in skiing or snowboarding obviously plays an important role in choosing the appropriate training and competition opportunities. This time spent actively participating in skiing or snowboarding is referred to as the athlete's training age. The training ages outlined in the USSA Training System are for a high performance track athlete. Because of the gliding nature of skiing and snowboarding, which is unique from most other athletic endeavors, ski or snowboard experience is hard to replicate and training age is an important determinant of what an athlete can do. This does not mean that children who start skiing or snowboarding late cannot find success. Athletes whose training age is in a phase lower than their biological age would put them should work toward the training to competition ratios and the technique and tactical focus as outlined in their "training age phase" to get the proper skill development if they wish to maximize their long-term potential. Both biological and training age figure together in determining the right programming for each individual athlete. Clubs should be set up to accommodate different training programs for athletes of the same age but in different developmental phases. Note that such accommodation should also factor each individual's social, cognitive and emotional needs as well, one size does not fit all. The objective is to better match the training and competition programs with each individual's needs.
USSA Training System Phases
Based on biological and training age, the USSA Training System outlines three stages of development which are broken down further into six phases of development.
The Foundation Stage consists of development phases 1 and 2, and generally represents the young athlete's introduction to skiing or snowboarding. The focus in this stage is first and foremost on FUN. In this stage, athletes of the same age are generally pretty similar in their physiological development.
Pre and Post Puberty Stage
The Pre and Post Puberty Stage consists of development phases 3 through 5. In this stage, a group of athletes of the same age may be in very different developmental phases based on their stage of growth. The periods just prior to, during and following a child's growth spurt are important windows to provide the right training opportunities. Mistimed training and competition plans can slow progress and ultimately limit an athlete's long-term potential. It can be a challenge though, because in most cases athletes are grouped by their chronological age. A group of 13 and 14 year olds, for example, will generally have some skiers or snowboarders who are pre-puberty, some in the middle of puberty and some who are post-puberty. While the same age and expericence level, these athletes have different training needs.
Full Maturation Stage
The final stage is Full Maturation, which is development phase 6. This phase may start as early as 16 years old for girls and 17 years old for boys, but for many this phase does not begin until a few years later. Once into this phase, the training and competition demands will mirror those of the elite athletes in skiing and snowboarding. The training age aspect is important here. Many studies have shown that it takes ten years of focused training or practice for expert performance in a given sport. Physically, mentally, and socially athletes in this stage are capable of higher intensity and volume of training than in the previous phases, with training becoming more specialized for their sport.
For details on each phase, click here.