Team USA celebrates their victory over Australia.


Discovery of key concepts and motor skills of the sport/activity is critical in order to learn how the sport is played. Many skills are transferable between sports. Programs should accommodate athletes that participate in multiple sports. This early stage requires coaching that will allow fun and enjoyment through discovery and exploration.

  • Learn basic rules and sport techniques
  • Play multiple sports to accelerate motor skill development
  • Emphasize skill development, sport education and age-appropriate play
  • Emphasize practice over competition; if competing, not beyond local or regional levels
  • Encourage deliberate play
  • Have fun
  • Sample multiple sports through unstructured play
  • Develop motor skills that transfer from sport to sport
  • Cultivate a passion for sport and active lifestyle
  • Socialize with others
  • Utilize free or spontaneous play for discovery of the sport and sport skills
  • Core fundamental movements
  • How to use size and age-appropriate equipment and playing surfaces
  • Rules of the game
  • Physical education class
  • Open gym
  • Free/spontaneous play
  • Basic organized play
  • Everyone has an equal chance to play in competition

This stage occurs after an athlete has been engaged in a sport and wants to explore more organized training options. It focuses on refining the skills needed to be successful in the activity or sport, and then furthering skill development through challenges, such as recreational competition, organized sport programs or club participation.

Athlete readiness and motivation determine the choice to pursue the next level in sport. The second stage may begin earlier for some athletes who are quick to develop physically and mentally. Fun and socialization are still key areas of emphasis in order to encourage future participation and to avoid burnout.

  • Understand rules and techniques of the sport
  • Participate in multiple sports for continued motor and physical development
  • Participate in a fun, structured and ongoing training program (as opposed to participating in “open gym)”
  • Compete at the local/regional level
  • Emphasize practice and skill development over competing
  • Understand the impact on performance due to different maturation rates
  • Physical: core movement fundamentals, increasing requirements for speed, agility, balance, endurance, strength and coordination
  • Psychological and social: interpersonal skills, teamwork, communication skills and adapting to the growing challenges of sport development
  • Technical skills: identify personal strengths and areas to improve with a continued emphasis on proper movement mechanics
  • Tactical: practice appropriate time to emphasize team and individual skill application
  • Recreational competition at the local/regional level
  • Organized league play

Note: Seek challenging competition that is commensurate with athlete/team.

At stage three, athletes begin to train and compete in a program that matches their personal interests, goals and developmental needs. Competitions become more clearly defined in this process with potential for new experiences in team selection. Maximizing potential becomes an option for athletes as they start to grasp the commitment necessary for certain sports, and the skill sets needed to excel at the next competitive level. Technical, tactical, physical and psychosocial development becomes increasingly more important for the athlete at this time. This is also the time to increase sport-specific training. Recreation and multi-sport play can continue to be used in a cross-training capacity to allow the athlete to more fully develop.

  • Begin to focus on particular sports
  • Use multi-sport play for cross-sport development
  • Participate in a fun, structured and ongoing training program
  • Compete in more challenging situations
  • Improve skills at the local, regional and/or national levels
  • Seek opportunities to further develop skills
  • Focused training through coaching
  • Follow a consistent training schedule
  • Increase sport-specific training
  • Emphasize competition skills
  • Utilize more sport-science related information such as nutrition and sport psychology
  • Participate in development camps
  • Club competition
  • Middle and high school competitions
  • Local, regional and national competitions

Note: Seek challenging competition that is commensurate with athlete/team skill.

When an athlete reaches high school they will likely face a choice that offers the option to focus on sport for high performance and increased competition, or continuing to compete for the fun, healthy and social aspects. Athletes will be able to choose the pathway that best represents their interests and abilities. Growth spurts, experience or dedication to training may all affect which path an athlete follows during their sport career. This stage allows for both full development and commitment to their sport(s), and enjoyment of the benefits that sport offers. Fun and socialization remain key elements of this stage, although the definition of fun changes from athlete to athlete and also will adjust based on the commitment level to high performance or participation.

Excel for High Performance
  • Dedicate to maximizing athletic potential
  • Commit to an ongoing annual and/or long-term training program
  • Is single sport-focused while in season
  • Maximize talents
  • Full-year plan to excel and progress
  • Master and/or elite-level coaching
  • High-performance focus
High Performance
  • Competitions commensurate with athlete skill level, and to appropriate levels outside their comfort zone to challenge performance development
  • Elite national and international competitions

Participate and Succeed

  • Dedicate to participating in sports to be successful and have fun
  • Multi-sport for cross-sport development
  • Participate in a structured ongoing training program
  • Focus on enjoying their time playing as well as the healthy benefits of sport participation
  • Be active and involved
  • Compete for challenge and fun
  • Develop for personal achievement
  • Local- and regional-based competitions that meet the needs of the athlete and their competition goals
  • Sport club competition

Many athletes want to give back to the sport after they retire. Coaching, officiating, and mentoring other athletes are natural next steps. With previous experience as an athlete, coach, official and/or administrator can prepare other athletes to be the best they can be in sport, and enjoy the development process.

  • Transition from participant to sport leader as a coach or advocate
  • Pursue opportunities to remain involved in sport
  • Physically active, healthy lifestyle
  • Certified coach
  • Sport club management
  • National Governing Body involvement
  • Officiate
  • Professional development in chosen sport(s)
  • Master’s programs/competitions
  • Consistent exercise
  • Recreational competitions
  • Personal health
  • Support local and national sports and organizations