December 15, 2020

The Three Stages Of Athlete Development

Long-term athlete development is essential to nurturing athletes to fulfil their potential. In this article we share the three stages of athlete development.

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New Zealand produces a lot of great athletes, given the size of its population. We’ve excelled in rugby, yachting, rowing, triathlon, swimming, cricket, athletics and more, producing world-beaters in each of these disciplines.

Our success is not the result of volume. We don’t have the population size to throw athletes at a sport, training them until they win, or until they break. Instead, we must nurture them and provide a clear pathway to success.

The product of New Zealand triathlon, I grew up in an environment that nurtured young athletes. From a young age, I had access to high-quality and supportive coaching, and as I improved, I was guided by a governing body with a progressive (and effective) pathway in place.

This pathway took me all the way to the Olympic Trials.

I’ve been thinking a lot about athlete development lately and how it fits into my role coaching amateur runners and triathletes and my work at Coached. I’m not currently trying to groom high-performance Olympic athletes. Still, I am trying to write programmes that produce athletes who consistently perform to a high level of their personal competency.

Each athlete has different genetics, backgrounds and personal circumstances. We can’t change that. Our role at Coached then is to put in place a framework that gradually prepares athletes, physically and mentally, to get as close to their athletic potential as they can.

That’s where the idea of long-term athlete development comes in.

My former coach, John Hellemans, had a lot to do with the setup of Triathlon New Zealand (the governing body) and the framework from which they nurture athletes. He also wrote a short handbook – The Triathlon Coach – that I found the other day, hidden on my bookcase.

In it, John talked about the coach-athlete relationship and the three stages of athlete development.

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Stage 1. The Developing Athlete

The developing athlete is an athlete who is young in training years. They lack specific knowledge and experience in their chosen sport. At this point in their journey, the coach is in charge, directing their training and educating the athlete.

Developing athletes are learning to train.

Stage 2. The Maturing Athlete

The maturing athlete has been following a structured training programme for some time and has participated in several races. Their advantage over the developing athlete is that of experience. They’ve learnt how they respond to different types of training and racing; what works and what doesn’t. At this point, the athlete has a little more say in the training prescribed to them.

Maturing athletes are learning to compete.

Stage 3. The Champion Athlete

Champion athletes are rare, and it takes many years of dedicated training and competition to reach this point in the athlete development cycle. At this point, they know themselves incredibly well and can take on more responsibility and ownership of their training programme and racing schedule. The coach often becomes more of a trouble-shooter or mentor, than a prescriptionist.

Champion athletes are training to win.

Which Stage Of Your Development Are You?

You may be a champion athlete, but more likely you’re a developing or maturing athlete, like the athletes we coach here at Coached. We’ve coached countless Boston qualifiers and Ironman World Championship qualifiers. These athletes are good, but they’re not champion athletes.

Since our current Coached athletes are of various abilities somewhere in stages one and two, we invest the bulk of our time building infrastructure and support systems that help these athletes.

We do season planning and develop high-quality training programmes that detail what to do, when to do it, and why. We provide detailed support resources and unlimited in-app and email support. Each week we do a team video call to dive deeper into a particular topic.

Everything we do is to shorten the learning curve and move our athletes further along the athlete development pathway. We want our athletes to find long-term joy in the process of training, as they improve their health and performance.

If you’re keen to improve the quality of your training, we’d love to help you.
Try any Coached programme free for 14-days.

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Ben Pulham

Ben Pulham is the founder of Coached, a personalised training programme that helps runners & triathletes optimise, track and enjoy their training.