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The Long Term Perspective On Athlete Development

We're celebrating this week after one of Littauer Strength Training's first athletes hit some major milestones this past weekend. One of the athletes I have had the privilege of working with over the last three years competed in an invite-only Powerlifting meet here in the Carolinas. At 15, Leah was one of the Women's Teen Division lifters who was invited to compete alongside the other top Teen's across all categories. She finished second overall, and took home two American Records, and improved on her own North Carolina State Records by at least five kilograms. To some, they would consider this a breakout meet. But for us, it is simply a stepping stone in a development which has been in process for the last three years.

Photos from training of LST Athlete, Leah, who set American Records in the Bench Press and Deadlift in the 13-15 year old division.

While we took some weights and attempts which we had never tried in training, we stayed on target for a long term trajectory which we expect to be another three or four years away. When I put those weights in at the meet, there was only one weight I was nervous about us making. But as it stands, we stayed on trajectory in how we haven't missed a lift yet. In training, or on the platform, Leah has only missed lifts based on technicalities such as squat depth or rack commands. She's never legitimately failed a rep based on strength output, as has been an emphasis we've tried to have during her development in the sport.

One of the primary reasons we have shied away from pushing limits and boundaries on the physiological end, is due to our emphasis on mastering the skill aspect of training and lifting.

Skill in a movement ultimately leads to increased output within the movement.

When we look at the long term development of an athlete, especially with those in pre- or mid-adolescence, we need to understand the role skill plays in driving output. Often, we see a rush by parents and coaches to get output from young athletes in hopes it will increase their potential for a scholarship. But what can happen when doing this is a stunted skill level in basic skills which decrease their long term output. This is especially true in the process of physical preparation (Strength and Conditioning) for any sport. Whether it is an individual sport like Powerlifting or Wrestling, or a team sport like soccer or volleyball we need to consider the individual's need for skill in the weight room as well.

I'll continue to use Leah as an example for this, because not only has the focus been on the Long Term result and a lifetime of potential competition, but because what most people saw this past weekend was the culmination of three years of dedicated physical literacy and skill development. As mentioned before, we've never failed a rep. Have we had some technically imperfect or reps which have been "ugly"? Absolutely. Everyone has those. But we've been very careful to ensure we're not failing physiologically or out of strength. We have worked very carefully to develop coordination, balance, motor control, stability, and skill. As skill increases, we'll continue to develop.

When asked this week what the goal was with this weekend, and whether or not we planned on setting all National Records this past weekend, my answer was "We're focused on March." March is when High School/Teen Nationals happen, and this is where we'll make bigger strides to set records (within limits) for her age group and weight class. The records she earned this past weekend were just a nice cherry on top of a stellar performance and exposure to a more intense environment. The environment being a key piece to competing successfully in March. This is when we'll prospectively set new records in all competition lifts, including breaking her own. This is what it looks like to have a Long Term focus on Athlete Development.

When we are planning out the Long Term for a young athlete, we're trying to increase skill to increase output at a later date. It's playing scrimmages at the beginning of a season when the Long Term goal is winning a championship. It's hitting a 5lb Personal Record in the gym instead of 10lb, when the ultimate goal is 100lb PR a year from now. In those little things we build skills, both physically and mentally, which will lead us to a High Goal in the end.

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