Decide Slowly

By John Kessel | Nov. 30, 2013, 1:36 p.m. (ET)

I have written several times about the Long Term Athlete Development movement, something which over 15 years ago USA Volleyball’s Coaching Accreditation Program began including in the IMPACT and CAP clinics we put on.   Earlier in November some 15 National Governing Bodies (NGBs for short) joined with the US Olympic Committee staff and Nike to share the latest research and ideas in this area.

Before I go any further, I want to share a statement that impacted everyone in the room greatly – that for the first time ever, the young kids of this newest generation in the U.S. will have a FIVE years less life expectancy….  Whoa nelly, did I hear that right? Yes, primarily due to the increasingly inactive lifestyle kids are now having, which follows into their adult life. The research also shows that the age to change and get more lifelong active adults, is in a child’s first 10 years. This we knew and is why we have been pushing more youth volleyball programming, including free USAV membership for 8 and unders.

Nike brought a lot of research to the group, which I urge all of you reading my blog to download and share –   While discussing this meeting with Dr. Peter Vint, Director of Innovation, he shared a discussion he had with John Murtough…now with Manchester United in the English Premier Football League. While discussing LTAD and pipeline decisions on athletes seeking to play for England at the highest level, Mr. Murtough brilliantly summarized it by saying “Decide Slowly.”

The work of Dr. Carl McGown and two time US Olympic team head men’s coach Fred Sturm in this area of LTAD, had been summarized  well by our International Volleyball Federation (FIVB) – and is also a valuable download/read  - being recently posted to the FIVB website here.

Dr. McGown shared a recent HBR study, lasting over 75 years showing once again that Initial ability is not highly correlated with final ability.

The opening information on this study reads as this: At a time when many people around the world are living into their tenth decade, the longest longitudinal study of human development ever undertaken offers some welcome news for the new old age: our lives continue to evolve in our later years, and often become more fulfilling than before.  Begun in 1938, the Grant Study of Adult Development charted the physical and emotional health of over 200 men, starting with their undergraduate days.  The now-classic ‘Adaptation to Life’ reported on the men’s lives up to age 55 and helped us understand adult maturation.  

Now George Vaillant follows the men into their nineties, documenting for the first time what it is like to flourish far beyond conventional retirement.  Reporting on all aspects of male life, including relationships, politics and religion, coping strategies, and alcohol use (its abuse being by far the greatest disruptor of health and happiness for the study’s subjects), ‘Triumphs of Experience’ shares a number of surprising findings.  For example, the people who do well in old age did not necessarily do so well in midlife, and vice versa.  While the study confirms that recovery from a lousy childhood is possible, memories of a happy childhood are a lifelong source of strength.  Marriages bring much more contentment after age 70, and physical aging after 80 is determined less by heredity than by habits formed prior to age 50.  The credit for growing old with grace and vitality, it seems, goes more to ourselves than to our stellar genetic makeup.”

Volleyball on an LTAD timeline chart  is a LATE specializing sport. While Olympic gymnasts must specialize very young to have success at the Olympic level, especially girls, our sport really takes the combination of skills, strength and experience in the ability to read and deceive the opponent. My Canadian coaching friend Mark Tennant recently shared this chart from some FIVB work he has done.

Mark shared a chart about the late specialization sport aspect of volleyball, a summary of age characteristics of the 2012 London Olympic Games women’s and men’s teams. Consider these facts. The final rank of the five oldest teams of the 12 teams of each gender was no lower than 5th….and then there are these facts:

Average age of all 12 teams     Average age of the three teams medalling 
 Women: 26.75 29.94
 Men: 27.49 27.94 
Oldest Team  Oldest Player
 Women: 30.58    39.2
 Men: 30.92 41.0
Youngest Team     Youngest Player
 Women: 22.0 17.5
 Men: 23.6 18.75

So to summarize for all of us in this sport for a lifetime?

The sooner and the more we are active as kids, the more we will be active through our lives….

Keep as many athletes as long as possible playing.- Minimize or eliminate cutting kids in all programming……

Initial ability has little correlation to final ability, so….

Decide slowly

Let’s work together with all regions, clubs and affiliated organizations in USAV like the YMCAs and Parks and Rec, to give more children a chance to be their sport, and teach all of them what having a 75 and over national championships means to their lifelong involvement in volleyball.

By the way, if you can follow me on Twitter now, not just Facebook and Linkedin - @JohnKesselUSAV , if you want to get some of the reads and ideas in advance of their being shared in my Growing the Game Together Newsletter or this GTGT blog.