By George Vogiatzis
Our role as coaches is complex to say the least. Most of us spend years, even decades, becoming masters of our craft to support athletes in maximising their potential. That is a long, winding journey often scattered with road blocks and detours and even though coaches like to show absolute confidence in their methodology, the truth is sometimes the solutions aren’t always obvious. The nature of tennis constantly tests us to adapt, think and update our practices to suit the needs of the vast array of players who invest their trust into our philosophy. It challenges us to not only be specialists of tennis but also generalists of strength, conditioning, physical therapy and psychology as we are the first point of call to identify issues on court and are required to communicate with professionals outside of our expertise. It is easy to get lost in process of it all, lose valuable time and miss steps when working and developing athletes at any age or level. That is why it is imperative that we as coaches become skilful at creating intelligent and purposeful plans. These plans need to be focused on holistic short and long term goals, always taking into consideration the individualism of the athlete and incorporate high quality, scientifically based evidence. The purpose of this review is to explore a Long Term Athlete Development (LTAD) structure in terms of tennis development to help give coaches a guideline to consider progressions, priorities and training styles. We will aim to factor in variables such as age, gender, developmental readiness, physical literacy, cognitive skills and more and examine how they interplay throughout the different stages.
KEY CONSIDERATIONS Before we dive into the LTAD structure it is important that we define some key concepts and principles that must be evaluated as coaches throughout the various periods of development.
Cognitive Stage: Refers to the first stages of learning a new skill where the movements are often slow, inefficient, uncoordinated and break down easily. The brain takes in a large amounts of information and performance is inconsistent. Associative Stage: The longest stage of learning where the most amount of practice is needed. The learner is now able to bring together the skill to gain a better quality performance, though still inconsistent, awareness of skill break down increases and gains start to decrease. Autonomous Stage: The skills and movements is now fully developed with little or no cognitive load. Performance of the skill is maximised and break downs rarely occur.
A window of trainability is a critical phase of development when training has optimal effect on strength and conditioning. Areas include strength, speed, skill, endurance, and flexibility. The diagram shows a basic guide as to when these windows may occur in terms of age and growth rate.
Periodisation refers to the planning and structure of an athlete’s training into cycles to create peak performance and holistic training schedules.
The above table shows what a periodised plan may look like for an athlete over a 12 month period. The plan is broken into micro and macro cycles within focused phases that usually relate to competition performance peaks.
THE LONG TERM ATHLETIC DEVELOPMENT GUIDE
The LTAD modeL shown in the diagram is commonly used in most sports and below we explore areas to think about and consider throughout the various phases.
AGES : GIRLS 5-8, BOYS 5-9
This phase is focused on developing the basics and fundamentals needed for skill development. Without great quality coaching, programming and success at this age it is very difficult to make it up in the next phases. Coaches should focus on:
GIVE THOUGHT TO: I. Cognitive stage of learning II. Windows of trainability III. Early specialisation vs Generalisation IV. Creating and operating in team based environments V. Developmental readiness of each athlete VI. Basic planning, no strict periodisation
AGES : GIRLS 8-11 , BOYS 9-12
“Learn to Train” focuses on consolidating and advancing the learnings from the fundamentals stage as athletes begin to transition into the associative stage of learning and make cognitive and physiological gains.
AGES : GIRLS 12-14 , BOYS 13-15
Potentially the most important time in developing an athlete to compete at the high performance level, the “train to train” phase begins to transition the fundamentals of junior tennis into competition context. By the back end of this block players should begin to possess an almost complete game with defining gamestyles having emerged.
GIVE THOUGHT TO: I. Between the associative and autonomous stages of learning II. Anthropomorphic measures used to track growth III. Plan towards tournament schedules, match frequencies and added travel IV. Aim for two macro cycles in periodisation (6 months each), add 1-2 peaks after the first year V. Remain focused on development, not results VI. Flexibility within training program to account for when athlete needs time off, rest or injury
AGES : GIRLS 15-16 , BOYS 16-18
All the learning of the last two phases should now tie in together to create a holistic athlete who is responsible and autonomous. Competition load increases and matches should become more physically demanding in terms of speed and intensity.
GIVE THOUGHT TO: I. Autonomous stage of learning II. Aim for one macrocycle (12 months) of periodisation, multiple peaks per year III. Focus and measure performance goals, not results IV. Aim for 3:1 win:loss ratio V. Continue to monitor, test and collect data through testing
AGES : GIRLS 17+ , BOYS 19+
In this phase athletes enter their professional/collegiate careers and have fully developed habits on and off the court. Athletes should have developed great self awareness as a person and as a player and be skilled in communication with coaches and support staff.
diet, sleep, recovery, training etc b) Player should become fully responsible in equipment quality and use c) Player should be familiar with all recovery processes and be fully autonomous in maintaining
a healthy lifestyle d) Consolidate psychological skills to implement in various situations e) Continue to develop the physiological and athletic capabilities
GIVE THOUGHT TO: I. Aim for one macrocycle (12 months) of periodisation, multiple peaks per year f) Focus and measure performance goals in matches, not results vii) Aim for 3:1 win:loss ratio viii) Continue to monitor, test and collect data through testing
Tennis is a complicated sport to plan for considering the sport’s structure, the frequency of tournaments and travel so finding blocks to train is usually quite difficult. It is important that coaches are adaptable but maintain a focus towards goals and achievements but also allow the player room to contribute to their own growth.
It is impossible to encapsulate all the information a coach requires into a a few short pages but we hope that this is simply a guide to hopefully spark some new ideas and curiosity into coaches.
Remember, development is not linear and it takes more than a coach alone to be successful in the journey with the player. It requires a team which includes family, coaches, experts, consultants and specialists of all sorts. Everyone needs to be on board, everyone needs to have trust in the process and everyone has a role to play in the overall plan.
“A GOAL WITHOUT A PLAN IS JUST A WISH”
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