Brent Harvey exemplifies the skilled small man who can thrive at AFL level

Stage Effects

Thursday, August 11, 2011

By Peter Schwab
AFL Director of Coaching

A friend of mine went to school with Adam Gilchrist, Australiaís greatest wicketkeeper-batsman.

I asked him if there were early signs of Gilchrist's talent as a boy.

Steve told me he was smashing the ball everywhere back then; his hand-eye coordination was incredible. He also told me Gilchristís older brother was a great batsman.

Iím sure you've had these conversations when watching children's sport. You see a highly talented youngster who dominates his sport at an early age and you wonder if these early signs of talent will flourish in later years.

Some great sportspeople will flow through the system dominating each year they play, while others will develop at a later stage before they reach a high level of performance.

Like all sports, the AFL recognises different stages of development, with certain objectives and focuses for each stage of a young player's development.

These stages are sequential as a player grows and develops not only in size and strength, but also cognitively and socially.

A boy or girl of six starting out in a game needs to be taught and allowed to develop very differently to a 14-year-old.

The stages of development recognised by the AFL are the 'fundamental stage' (five to 11 years) where the main objective is participation and learning of the fundamental movement and game skill.

The next is the 'sampling stage' (12-14 years) where the main objective is the learning of all the fundamental skills of the game and the development of basic physical capacities, while continuing to develop all-round sports skills.

At this stage players should be learning to consolidate basic skills, but they should also continue to play a range of sports for their all-round development.

By 15 to 16 years they enter the 'identification stage' where the objectives are the development of higher levels of skills and physical capacities. At this stage they may be identified for the talent they display and considered for representative teams, which places them on the talent pathway for the first time.

The final stage for teenagers is the 'specialising stage' (17-18 years) where again skills development is a focus. The most talented in this age group will be recognised for entry into national championship-level competition and a high-level state-based competition.

The fact is players will develop at different rates across these stages. Some will consistently flow through; others will show early ability and for a multitude of reasons not continue on; there will also be those who mature much later and may reach their peak after the age of 20.

One of the relevant factors that can influence the rate of skill acquisition and physical capacity of an individual is the 'relative age effect' phenomenon.

This was first demonstrated in the academic domain, and refers to the differences in development among children born in the same calendar year.

It suggests that by categorising children by age you can create training inequalities and reduced opportunities for those born in the later months of the year.

There are two main explanations to account for relative age effects: older players are generally bigger, stronger, faster and more coordinated and therefore experience more success early and are therefore more likely to remain involved, and, older players are more likely to be selected to a higher-standard team where they receive better coaching.

Clearly both early maturity and late maturity are major factors in performance.

Younger, smaller players may develop better evasion, skill level and reading of the play to overcome their physical limitations, so when they mature they have developed some outstanding skills that bigger, stronger players may have neglected due to their early maturity.

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