Parallels Between Developing a Reader and Developing an Athlete

Thanks to my friend, Randy Goodman – a renown expert in sports physiotherapy – for allowing me to share his expertise in this blog.   When I

randy goodmanfirst read Randy’s article –  It takes patience to develop an athlete –  in our local paper, I found so many of his statements rang true for learning to read as well – the importance of play, the development of the building blocks (the ABC’s), the importance of practice, taking care not to rush children and having patience.   Just as in sports, there seems to be a push to have children reading at an earlier and earlier age.  Substitute the word ‘reader’ for ‘athlete’ in Randy’s sentence:  “Patience is the key so the athlete learns all of the necessary skills and has success and fun along the way”.   If we can do this in both sports and learning to read, kids will “succeed and have fun participating in sports (and reading) for life.”  Here is Randy’s article (if you have a school newsletter, it might be a good article to share with parents as so many students are also involved in sports outside of school):

The first thing about athlete development is to understand that the goal is to encourage successful participation in sport  throughout life, and occasionally a champion is produced.

Far too often, parents are trying to create champions with their 10-year-olds and ignoring the science that has proven how to develop athletic skills and physical literacy.

More than 20 years ago, scientists from all over the country started to develop the Canadian Long Term Athlete Development Model. This is a researched, age-specific model to develop the right sports skills at the correct time.

The model has been validated internationally many times since, and is now implemented in most countries throughout the world (a full description is available

There are 7 stages for athlete development. Each stage has windows of opportunity for specific physical and mental attributes to be developed.

Early in development it is important for kids to “play” and experience different kinds of movement, therefore learning agility, balance and coordination — which are the ABC’s of physical literacy.

It is also essential for kids under 12 to try multiple sports as they grow up, as this helps them develop a diversity of skills.

An interesting point is that the window of opportunity to develop flexibility is between the ages of eight and 10, yet we often don’t start warm-ups and stretching with kids until they are starting to play more competitively at 12-13.

As kids progress through the seven phases, they learn more sport-specific skills about the sports they choose to enjoy.

As they enter the Train to Train phase (11-15 years old), there is a window of opportunity to train aerobic fitness and consolidate physical skills learned.

However, they should be practising at least 50 per cent of the time. Yet if you watch “select” travel teams, sometimes our kids end up spending more time in vehicles going to games than they do practising skills.

Once kids actually start getting seriously interested in sport, around 15-17 years old, they need to think about year-round training. This includes having an expert help them develop physically and learning about recovery and time off.

After all, as a parent you need a vacation. They do too.


Recently I had a chance to interview J.P. Barry, one of the most prominent player agents in the NHL who represents the likes of Daniel and Henrik Sedin, Curtis Lazar, Evgeni Malkin, Jonathan Toews  and hundreds of other pro and developing athletes.

I asked him what he found was the biggest mistake parents make in helping their children develop in sports so they can enjoy it and be successful.

“The biggest mistake parents  make is rushing them, and trying to put kids in levels ahead of what they are ready for,” said Barry.

“Patience is the key so the athlete learns all of the necessary skills and has success and fun along the way. It takes lots of time for an athlete to develop into a competitor.”

This is why it’s important for the early levels of sport to be focused on skills and development, with games thrown in to learn to compete and win and face adversity.

Far too often, younger “rep” teams are designed to mimic a junior program and the kids are playing a 70-game schedule.

Patience and understanding the phases of development are key to helping kids cultivate the right skills at the right time and succeed and have fun participating in sports for life.

Randy Goodman is a Clinical Specialist in Sports Physiotherapy, having worked with professional athletes in the NHL, NBA, NFL, NCAA and CIS, as well as consulting with many of Canada’s national teams. You can contact him at