Finding the Right Balance Between Training and Practice in the Off-Season

Get better at the sports you play and the life you lead at STACK. Improve your training, nutrition and lifestyle with daily

Are you spending the right amount of time in the weight room? The time an athlete spends in the gym, as well as appropriate skill development, depends primarily on where he or she is classified within the Long-Term Athletic Development [LTAD] model created by Dr. Istvan Balyi, one of the foremost experts on long-term athlete development and the periodization of training programs.

Balyi's model outlines the different characteristics of athletic development in several stages throughout the life cycle. Within his framework, young athletes should spend more time on developing fundamental movement skills and physical abilities versus specific sport skills. This focus then naturally shifts over time as the athlete ages and develops.

For the purpose of this blog post, let's assume we are talking about a high school hockey player with more than seven years playing experience, who is entering the off-season. In the LTAD model, based on his age and experience, this athlete is classified as "Training to Compete" or "Training to Win." During the off-season, he will devote roughly 75 percent of his time to improving strength and conditioning in the weight room.

As the summer progresses, the paradigm will shift to include more sports-skill development through time spent on the ice. Moving closer to the end of summer and the start of the season, the athlete will spend about 40 to 50 percent of his time on skill development, specifically skating mechanics, stick handling and shooting. In the weight room, training to reduce the likelihood of injury is paramount as the season draws closer.

Read on for more information on the first five stages of Balyi's Long-Term Athletic Development Model:

Stage 1: FUNdamentals
Age: Males 6-9/Females 6-8
Focus on developing "fun"damental movement abilities and physical skills. Emphasis is on play and participation in as many different sports as possible for improved agility, balance, coordination and speed, among other skills.

Stage 2: Learning to Train
Age: Males 9-12/Females 8-11
Athletes learn higher-level skills related to a particular sport. Competitive element of sport is introduced, but not overemphasized. Primary goal remains to develop specific skills and techniques.

Stage 3: Training to Train
Age: Males 12-16/Females 11-15
Volume of training increases, but intensity remains moderately low. Mental preparation and training methods are introduced.

Stage 4: Training to Compete
Age: Males 16-18/Females 15-17
Training becomes more individualized, with a specific program created to address each athlete's strengths and weaknesses. Training intensity increases.

Stage 5: Training to Win
Age: Males 18+/Females 17+
With the athlete's physical, mental and technical skills fully established, objective is to maximize fitness preparation, sport skills and overall performance.

For more detail on LTAD [including Stage 6, which is retirement/retention], please click here.

Photo:  Jim McIsaac/Getty Images

Sean Donellan is the director of Velocity Sports Performance facilities in Mahwah and Closter, NJ. Before joining Velocity, he spent seven years as the strength and conditioning coach for the New York Islanders and two years as director of performance at the Ice House in Hackensack, NJ.

Photo Credit: Getty Images // Thinkstock