The following is an example of a five stage progression (UK Athletics model) for long term athlete development which we have incorporated into our Bellevue program:
1.Fundamentals - where the emphasis is on fun, developing basic fitness and general movement skills - training years 1 to 3 and ideally a chronological age of 6 to 13.
2.Learning to Train - where the emphasis is to learn how to train and develop their general skills - training years 3 to 5 and ideally a chronological age of 10 to 15.
3.Training to Train - where the emphasis is event(s) specific training - training years 5 to 7 and ideally a chronological age of 13 to 17.
4.Training to Compete - where the emphasis is to correct weaknesses and develop athletic abilities - training years 7 to 9 and ideally a chronological age of 15 to 19.
5.Training to Win - where the emphasis is on enhancing performance - training years 10+ and ideally a chronological age of 18+.
Ages 7 to 11: Avoiding "little league syndrome"
Children need exercise: they need to develop their bodies and their brains, and the best way of doing this is by having fun at the same time. Exercise also offers a way of learning about the world and how it works. Sport, like life, has its rules, its constraints and its set boundaries. Like life, it tries to be fair but does not always succeed. The child learns the hardest but most valuable lesson of all - that they have limits. The parent has to find out what the child can and cannot do well. They must offer the child lots of opportunities and help them to select the ones which will best help them grow as a person. The "Tiger Woods model" is not a good one to follow, because this involves a parent imposing a regime at an age when the child is not in a position to make a choice. For every success this model produces, there are hundreds of frustrated children who are being blamed for not living up to their parents' expectations. During the primary school years, the child should be encouraged to run, but not forced to do so. A common reason for running is to be like Mum and Dad, and this is fine. If there is a local club, which caters for under 9’s and under 11s, encourage them to go along, as long as the regime there encourages variety and non-specialisation.
How far should a child run at this age?
Basically, they can run for as long as they want, as long as it is at their own pace. The biggest danger for modern children, particularly city kids, is lack of exercise, producing a downward spiral where inactivity leads to obesity, which makes them less inclined to do anything. Long runs on tarmac are not a good idea, but there is no reason why they should not go out training for 50 or 60 minutes, as long as this time is broken up. Children have the common sense to slow down or walk when they feel tired. A typical pattern for a club evening might be:
5 minutes running round the field ,10 minutes of exercises, usually with a partner , 4 to 8 laps of the track ( 1 to 2 miles) broken up into fast and slow sections, 15 minutes practicing a skill ( e.g. a jumping or throwing event) , 2 short-sprint relay races, in different teams ,5 minutes continuous relay (paarlauf) ,2 laps slow jog .
The emphasis in this phase should always be on variety.