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Understanding Athletic Development and Physical Preparation

Learn how to develop and enhance physical capabilities

In this theme of the Coach Learning Framework, you will find resources on:

  • Fundamental Movement Skills and physical literacy. Discover how you can support your participants to develop essential skills and build their physical literacy,
  • Growth and maturation. Understand the impact that growth and maturation has on the development of an individual.
  • Injury prevention, rehabilitation and returning to competition. Learn how to reduce injuries and risks, manage the return to training and play and support participants to achieve their training goals.

Why is Understanding Athletic Development and Physical Preparation Important in Coaching?

From play in the playground to becoming physically active for life, developing physical literacy is essential.

Sport and physical activity are based on fundamental movements and a participant who can control their body efficiently and effectively will be able to perform a wider range of movements and develop a greater repertoire of skills.

While you can work with participants of any age to develop fundamental movement skills, an emphasis in the early years provides a strong foundation for participants to develop their competency and confidence.

By designing an effective athletic development programme, you will both reduce the chances of injury and ensure that you are providing a platform to physically prepare your participants as they develop.

Start with developing a wide range of generic motor skills and development, as they allow for more varied participation in sport and physical activity, before progressing to developing related and specific movements. The age-old adage, ‘can’t catch, can’t play,’ applies here.

This development naturally takes place against the backdrop of the individual’s growth and maturation.

Through the pillars below, find resources to help you on your journey to understanding athletic development and physical preparation.

Fundamental Movement Skills and Physical Literacy

Fundamental movements provide the foundations on which all sporting, physical activity and life skills are based.

By supporting your participants to develop increased movement capacity and coordination, you enable them to progress on their journey to becoming physically literate, helping them gain the confidence and competence to embark on physical activity across their life cycle.

Once those skills have been established, you can then help your participants revisit, develop and progress them.

Importantly, developing movement skills in your participants helps in the reduction of injuries, can increase and support skill development, and provides the base for future athletic development and physical preparation.

This in turn opens up more opportunities for your participants, including access to a wide variety of physical activities and sports, and a reduction in injuries allows for more development opportunities and training time.

Key point: fundamentals provide the essentials for life.

Growth and Maturation

As your participants grow and develop, they move through a series of physical, emotional and developmental changes.

It's essential to recognise the state of development and appropriate progression relevant to the maturation status of the people you coach, as well as to gain a wider understanding of the development pathway, how you can support transitions, and how to prepare the people you coach with wider holistic development.

While this is often thought of as a priority for adolescents as they mature and progress into adulthood, in a much wider sense this includes a person's experience and knowledge of the sport and physical activity.

Regardless of their age, you need to understand how their sporting history, training age and experiences have had an impact on athletic development foundations and opportunities.

To support your participants effectively, make sure to explore and understand how growth and maturation impacts on their development, but, importantly, be aware of the social, emotional and cognitive as well as the physical dimensions of development to support and empower the participant and their family as their navigate their athletic journey.

Injury Prevention, Rehabilitation and Returning to Competition

Understanding injury prevention is an important aspect of coaching. In its simplest form, this involves understanding the benefits of a high quality and appropriate warm up and cool down.

Further, by recognising injuries and managing the return to training and return to play, you can ensure that any injury is fully healed, as returning too soon can cause injuries to worsen, delaying the participant's return further. Understanding the rehabilitation process enables you to limit the extent of the injury, reduce or reverse any impairment and functional loss of range, and support their return to play.

It is your duty of care as a coach to ensure that the health, well-being and safety of your participants is always prioritised above practice and competition opportunities. 

Through a strong understanding of sporting movements, risks and potential injuries, you can develop and include injury prevention within your coaching programme, which will not only reduce injuries and help reduce risks, but also support participants to achieve their training goals and empower them to be healthy and active for life.

    • The Athletic Skills Model: Encouraging Safe Variability and Versatility in Movement

    • The Athletic Skills Model: Developing Versatile Participants in a Nonlinear Way

    • Applying Physical Well-being to Your Coaching

    • So What is Developmentally Appropriate Sport?

    • Encouraging Fundamental Movement Skills

    • Understanding Balyi’s Long-Term Athlete Development Model

    • Youth Physical Development Model

    • Encouraging Fundamental Movement Skills

    • Understanding Balyi’s Long-Term Athlete Development Model


Free Resource Picks




Questions to Ask When Injured Athletes Return to Sport

Developed in partnership with Head Coach at Excelsior Athletic Development Club James Marshall, this infographic depicts the questions that you should consider when an athlete that you coach returns to sport following an injury




Male and Female Youth Physical Development Model

This contemporary model is based on evidence that shows that youth participants are responsive to training throughout childhood and adolescence, meaning coaches really can make a difference at all stages of development




The Relative Age Effect

In this podcast, Children's Lead at UK Coaching David Turner discusses the Relative Age Effect, something both sports coaches and parents should be aware of

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Injured Athletes: Five Ways to Concentrate on What You Can Do

Advice for injured athletes developed with Head Coach at Excelsior Athletic Development Club James Marshall. Once you’ve sought medical advice, finding out what is possible and discovering alternatives during your recovery can be really beneficial




Growth, Maturation and Development: Implications for Coaches

Professor Kevin Till, a practising coach and talent development expert who has worked in football, cricket, rugby league and rugby union for over 15 years, shares his insight and experience on growth, maturation and development. In the first of three resources, Kevin highlights a number of key considerations for coaches and their practice

Coach Learning Framework

The Coach Learning Framework has been created to help you design memorable and engaging great coaching experiences that meet the needs of all your participants, regardless of your sport or physical activity.

Understanding Athletic Development and Physical Preparation is one of nine themes that comprise this insight-based framework.

Continue your journey through the framework to learn more about the other eight themes and the key attributes of high-quality coaching environments, and how you can demonstrate the skills, qualities and behaviours that will empower the people you coach to achieve their personal goals.