Developing an elite junior cyclist is a lot like traditional American BBQ. If you’re not familiar with ‘low and slow’ cooking, it’s characterised by cooking meats at low temperatures for a long period of time, resulting in a wonderfully juicy, tender, and flavourful culinary experience.
Let’s take BBQing a brisket, for example: this process can take upwards of 20 hours and requires patience from the cook to not sacrifice the goal of tender meat for the immediate satisfaction of the ‘sizzle’ from exposing the brisket to too much heat too soon, resulting in a dried, flavourless dining experience.
Similarly, for the long-term development of a cyclist, a coach or parent does not want to sacrifice the athlete’s long-term success by exposing them to too much high-intensity training and competition too soon, resulting in a dried out and unmotivated cyclist before they hit their peak.
Long-term athlete development (LTAD) is defined as “[t]he habitual development of athleticism over time to improve health and fitness, enhance physical performance, reduce the relative risk of injury, and develop the confidence and competence of all youth (1).”
When a cyclist traverses the developmental pathway, there are multiple goals from maximising fitness and physical activity, fostering a love and passion for the sport, and generating appropriate opportunities to facilitate elite performance.
Ultimately, a coach should strive to create an environment where a young cyclist has access to opportunities to develop into an elite performer, but if they do not attain that level of success, they are still able to enjoy the sport of cycling as mode to improve their health and fitness.
The LTAD Process
There are certain stages within a LTAD framework that an athlete passes through to optimise their development (2). Similar to following a recipe for the optimal preparation of a brisket, the stages of development for a cyclist are sequential in nature and can’t be rushed.
This stage is typically for children aged 0-6 and when they are engaged in active play. Specifically for the sport of cycling, this is generally where children learn to ride a bike and develop an enjoyment for the physical activity.
The fundamentals stage is typified by both structured and unstructured play across multiple sports with fun embedded throughout. The goal of this stage is to fuel the young cyclist with a desire to keep participating.
Learn to Train
Following the development of the fundamental movement skills and a desire to learn more, the ‘Learn to Train’ stage focuses on learning rules, tactics, and strategies. Integration of training to develop physical qualities such as strength, power, and endurance is started in this stage. Additionally, at the end of this stage, participants can progress towards either a sporting excellence or an active for life pathway.
Train to Train
Athletes that have developed physically, technically, tactically, and emotionally within the sport of cycling will enter into the ‘Train to Train’ phase. This stage is characterised by rapid increases in physical growth and maturity, resulting in enhanced ability and a concomitant increase in commitment to the sport of cycling. It is common for a cyclist to continue to participate in multiple sports during this stage. However, cycling now becomes their sport of choice.
Train to Compete
A cyclist progresses into the ‘Train to Compete’ stage once they have attained proficiency in the technical, tactical, physical, and emotional components of the sport. In this stage, the volume and intensity of training is increased and periodised to ensure specific fitness qualities are peaking at appropriate times. Coinciding with intensified training is the need for appropriate and timely rest and recovery to ensure risks of injury and illness are mitigated.
Train to Win
Cyclists that ascend into the ‘train to win’ stage have risen to the national and international levels of competition. The objective is sustained success at the highest levels of competitions with individualised, highly specific year-around or multi-year (Olympic cycle) training programs. Cyclists at this stage of development have access to multi-disciplinary support teams of coaches, physiotherapists, physical preparation coaches, and scientists to help ensure their success.
Active for Life
The cyclists who do not progress through the sporting success stages of training to train, training to compete, and training to win should have a desire to use the sport of cycling as a platform to be active for life. This activity can be competitive (competitive for life) through racing in local competitions or at the masters level, or physically active for life through participating in social cycling events.
Supporting the Process
The National Strength and Conditioning Association (1) has presented 10 pillars for successful LTAD. These pillars are useful tenets of information for athletes, parents, coaches, and sporting organisations to support athletes as they progress through the LTAD stages:
Facilitating the development of a young cyclist is a long-slow process with a lot of ‘simmer’ and less ‘sizzle’. Navigating the process takes patience and a team effort between athletes, parents, coaches, and sporting organisations.
(1) Lloyd RS, Cronin JB, Faigenbaum AD, Haff GG, Howard R, Kraemer WJ, et al., National Strength and Conditioning Association position statement on long-term athletic development. The Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research. 2016; 30(6): 1491-509.
(2) Lloyd RD, Oliver JL. The youth physical activity development model: A new approach to long-term athlete development. Strength and Conditioning Journal. 2012; 34 (3): 61-72.
Dr Scott Tapley is a Senior Lecturer in Exercise and Sport Science: Strength and Conditioning in the Institute of Health and Wellbeing.
This article is part of a series by Federation University experts in the lead-up to the 2023 Federation University Road National Championships, which will be held in Ballarat and Buninyong from January 6-10. For more information, visit the Road Nationals website.
The 2022 AusCycling Road Racing National Championships is proudly supported by the City of Ballarat, Federation University, and Visit Victoria.
Main Photo: Con Chronis