Is there a need for a paradigm shift in school sports programming?

Free Kick

The current mindset of school sports is designed for short term competitive performance, but is there associated long term benefits from this?

While this mindset may facilitate performance in the early years it may be detrimental to the optimal development of the young athlete and compromise future performance. Moreover, it is likely to lead to burnout and possibly increase their relative risk of sustaining overuse injuries in their young careers. (Jefferys, I. 2008; SCJ)

“It is evident that many / most 1st  year high school’ers lack much basic fitness and athleticism, thus starting out on a very low base level of physical fitness and possibly technical skill. Even though to some degree general sports skill may be fairly well developed, the same is often not true for fundamental movement patterns. Therefore, the need for effective programming to redress these issues is paramount and possibly requires a new model of development to be devised which builds these elements into long term model rather than a short term “fix”.” (Jefferys, I. 2008; SCJ)

What are your thoughts?

Wayne Lombard


  1. Jason Tee

    Hi Wayne,

    I’m faced with this problem all the time eg. A bowler with decent skill level, who can’t do a push up and starts spraying it in his third over when fatigue sets in.

    In school environments, there is a constant battle for time between “skills” coaches and “conditioning” coaches. My feeling is that any sub elite level sports practice should spend 30-40% time developing physical attributes like strength and endurance. Unfortunately, when people are appointed to coach cricket for eg., they want to teach batting and bowling and take no responsibility for a child’s physical development.

    While I’m grateful for the industry that has been created as a result of this type of approach, it is flawed. No school can provide an adequate number of conditioning sessions with a conditioning professional to service all the children in the school.

    Coaches can’t just be skill coaches! Especially at junior level, there needs to be holistic development of participants, and this needs to be better reflected in our coaching structures, qualifications and appointments. Everyone needs to look beyond their game and realize that great athletes are invaluable in all sports.

    • rugbyscience

      Hi Jason, I couldn’t agree more. We have spent this year consulting to many schools explaining that its not ok to allow young athlete to be exposed to endless hours of sports training without considering that they actually need to spend time preparing their bodies physically for the forces that they may be exposed to during their relative sports.

      An even bigger problem exist when we see multi-sport athletes in a single season, where coach are ending up fighting for the same athlete.

      The only way is through an athlete centred approach were immediate success is not the primary focus. Schools need to “Start with the end in mind”, meaning that they need to decide what “product” (athlete) they are wanting to produce at the end of their schooling career. And then all efforts must be made to ensure that the process are put in place to allow the athlete to grow and mature not only in skill level but in physicality as well.

      Hopefully through continuous education we can eventually get this message across.


  2. Sean

    I agree. This brings to mind a term ‘long term athletic development’ and the focus areas of preparation and prevention. Performance after that! It also means we need to educate and train differently.

    • rugbyscience

      Hi Sean, very well said. Funny enough there is a lot of information available on LTAD, but schools seem to turn a “blind eye” on the actual message it brings.

      As long as winning and immediate success is on the forefront of our educators minds at primary and junior high school I think we are missing the boat completely.

      Schools, teachers and coaches need to be educated on the benefits of athletic development and the problems that occur with over loading youth athletes with sports training.

      Possibly a good physical education structure may be a means to solve this problem. 3 lessons a week, focusing on athletic development?


  3. Sean Surmon

    Hi Wayne,

    Agreed! PE classes at school with a fundamental focus around gymnastics – I was fortunate to experience this in my primary and high school till early 90’s, and then it all disappeared.

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