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Factors Influencing Player Development and Performance

This is an excerpt from Developing the Athlete by William J. Kraemer,Nicholas A. Ratamess & Thomas Newman.

While it starts with the athlete, player development continues in various fields that can affect optimal performance. As we make our way through the player development process in this book, we will see that addressing the ever-growing needs of the modern athlete is becoming more complex. The availability of professionals with experience and expertise in each field will affect the success of a program. In many situations, especially for young athletes (e.g., high school or younger), coaches are asked to take on responsibilities beyond their skill sets. As Clint Eastwood says in Magnum Force, “A man’s got to know his limitations”; we will add to that: A woman must know as well. Knowing one’s limits is key to understanding where one’s expertise starts and ends in a field. The need for professional staff members—or at least input from professionals who are not on staff—is essential to success. Failure to achieve this is often due to budget constraints or athletic administrators and sport coaches not understanding what skill sets are needed for a player development program.

Figure 1.1 shows the model we propose needs to exist and be represented by a professional in each of the areas to address all of the needs of the modern athlete. However, the influences on athletic performance are extensive, and many topics fall within the expertise areas noted. The different areas we call units must be integrated and aligned in order for the paradigm to effectively and efficiently get cutting-edge programs and interventions to the athletes in each sport.

FIGURE 1.1 Different areas of expertise that must be tapped into and used as the domains for a successful player development program. With the use of evidence-based practice approaches and the alignment of the team of professionals, the optimal program can be designed and implemented. Some certifications are accredited by independent accreditation organizations and others are not.
FIGURE 1.1 Different areas of expertise that must be tapped into and used as the domains for a successful player development program. With the use of evidence-based practice approaches and the alignment of the team of professionals, the optimal program can be designed and implemented. Some certifications are accredited by independent accreditation organizations and others are not.

Creating a cohesive player development team presents an array of challenges that emerge at different stages of an athlete’s career. In the early stages, specifically during youth development and high school, establishing a team dedicated to an athlete’s consistent care is particularly challenging. This situation changes in the professional stages, where union regulations or player associations can restrict interactions during specific parts of the training cycle. These regulations often drive athletes to commercial training facilities, causing a disruption in their training continuity.

A model solution for early phase development could be the adoption of a system similar to that found in U.S. high school athletics, where an effort was made by the Korey Stringer Institute at the University of Connecticut to promote having each school employ a certified athletic trainer. Similarly, every high school should engage a certified strength and conditioning and a sports scientist professional. These experts could then act as the starting point for the development of the team that could be constructed around them whether from a proximal location or virtually. This would then provide the necessary care for athletes and ensure evidence-based program progressions and interventions.

However, in some professional ranks, the problem of continuity remains a hurdle. The high rate of change in locations and variability over the yearly macrocycle create overwhelming challenges often handled by the athletes themselves. Furthermore, seasonal care is often hampered by a plethora of meetings and injury treatments, leaving little time or attention to address issues of tissue detraining, which can lead to injury vulnerability.

In essence, both the early and later stages of a player’s career pose unique challenges to the effective organization and implementation of player development teams. Overcoming these challenges is critical for optimizing an athlete’s training and overall development of the athlete composite.

A major challenge is understanding the competencies of each of the professionals involved in a player development program. Appropriate academic preparation and degrees are part of this competency basis, as are practice licenses typically regulated by the government. The number of certifications has increased in every area, and they may contribute to experience, but they are not always reliable indicators of competency. Evaluating a certification program depends on the field being covered and the organization that provides the program and testing. Some certifications have valid testing programs, but others only require attendance. Some are now online with little or no quality control. The first question to ask is whether the program is accredited by an independent national body (e.g., the National Commission for Certifying Agencies). However, certifications only legally stipulate minimal competence. Professionals should also have experience with the types of athletes they want to work with. Working with high school athletes is very different from working in a fitness gym with adults. While it is possible that someone who only has experience in a gym could also work with high school athletes—many contracted companies perform both roles—there could be blind spots. Top professional, medical, and scientific organizations have published professional standards that can be referred to (NSCA 2017). These are especially important for athletic administrators who set out to hire professional staff in the different areas of expertise needed for the player development program noted in figure 1.1.

A seminal book on evidence-based practices demonstrates that it takes a team of professionals to evaluate information and scientific findings for accuracy, and context is required for the questions being asked in a player development program (Amonette, English, and Kraemer 2016). Thus, the interactions and perspectives of coaches and everyone on the team are valued for their area of expertise in this evidence-based process, which will be discussed in detail later in this book. It is essential to remember that the core experts on a particular question must be valued highly in such a process. Often, sport coaches or athletic administrators, for whatever reasons, do not heed the expert’s recommendations and make poor decisions that are not in the athletes’ best interests (e.g., deciding against an in-season resistance training program or not hiring an athletic trainer or strength and conditioning professional on staff in a high school). This can be due to little or limited understanding of the player development process. Sport coaches are responsible for making many decisions outside their skill sets. Without understanding the different areas, as well as from a fear of not being perceived as a leader, they may fall back on personal experience, the Internet, and friends for help. At best, this is less than optimal in most situations! Optimal programming depends on accurate information and professional competencies. However, we will see that each decision in a player development program has its own context that must be understood to find the right answer. Here lies the art of practice or the so-called rub in player development.

More Excerpts From Developing the Athlete

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