Written by: Shereen Smith

Many sporting federations globally have realized the importance of Long-Term Programme Development to ensure the growth and grooming of world class athletes to represent their Nations in the competitive world and ultimately bring home the Trophy or gold medal.

However, the problem comes in with the execution of these well laid out plans, and South Africa provides a prime example of this. In South Africa, we place high importance of inter-school competitions; this is especially evident in the scholarship programmes for sports, in particular, Rugby and Cricket.

Sport is a highly driven factor in some of these “top” end schools with reputations of producing quality athletes, so much so that they look at their sports programmes individually, not taking into account the overlapping of preseason training and in season competition states for scholars who participate in more than one sport a year.

This ultimately results in little to no off-season whereby these “athletes” can actively rest and recover mentally as well as physically from the intensive season undergone. It is not surprising that we have seen an increased number in injuries due to overload and burnout from these athletes. Such issues continue to extend into the provincial realm as well as low-level clubs and these coaches as educated as they are, do not inquire with the athlete on their additional training plans that they may have. Nor do these coaches communicate with one another as each push to provide the best result for their league, province, school or team within the competition platform.

The ages of school goers from 7 years to 18 years cover two main phases. The first of which is “Physical Literacy” this directs the focus of objective for training to “Fundamentals” & “Learning to Train” ending between the ages of 11 – 12 years depending on the gender. The second phase leading itself more for sports performance development is the “Active for Life” working through stages “Training to Train”, Training to Compete” & “Training to Win”.

Regrettably, here is where one can see the discrepancy between the LTPD pathways and the execution with schools, clubs and provincial trains bring in the “Training to Compete” & “Training to Win” stages in around 10 – 15 years of age.

This then has a knock on effect by the competition levels, matches and sponsorships found within our provincial rugby and cricket teams in particular. This competitive internal focus with importance placed on national and provincial platform maybe hamper our abilities to break into the international sporting platform as a serious contender as well as affecting our abilities to maintain our standing.

It is our responsibility as coaches to advocate for what is in the best interest of our participants and athletes, the consideration of their long-term cognitive and physical development, retention of participation numbers within the sport for growth as well as their performance life span or “sporting career expectancy”. Change is not easy, and cannot be done alone as we have seen in South Africa’s past, but education is a huge driving force and we, the coaches, are the medium for this start.

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