Trainability: How far can training and practice take your child?

The human body adapts to exercise. Work your muscles and they get stronger. Run regularly and your lungs get faster at absorbing oxygen into your blood. This is how your body “responds” to training.

But here’s something you might not know: Different people respond differently to the exact same training. Kids included.

If you are the parent of an athlete, or a dancer, this is important to understand.

Whether it’s lifting weights, practicing flexibility, training for speed, or building aerobic endurance, every person has unique characteristics that determine the size and speed of their training response. Sport scientists call it “trainability.” Each person’s degree of trainability is determined primarily by genetics.

If you play a sport or enjoy exercising, you may already have a sense of how well your body responds to training. However, you may not have considered your child’s degree of trainability.

Why should you care?

When our kids play sports or pursue activities such as dance, we almost invariably look for signs of talent in their early years. We may even dream of them becoming world champions ten years from now. All they need to do is work really hard, right?

Well, yes and no. While effort is important in any endeavor, there are many factors that can prevent a child from becoming a world-beater. One of the most important is trainability.

As a simple illustration, have a look at the graph below.

trainability_ltad_2-2-1

We can imagine four basic kinds of training responses here whether you are training strength, flexibility, endurance, or speed:

  • Fast and large response
  • Slow and large response
  • Fast and small response
  • Slow and small response

When it comes to early talent identification in children, coaches and parents most frequently “identify” the kids who have a fast and large response early in their lives — before high school, in many cases.

However, coaches at the highest level of sport will tell you that there’s no way of knowing if this early training response is indicative of the full potential of these children as adults. The super fast or super strong 10-year-old may turn out to be one of the slowest and weakest in their age cohort by age 20. Similarly, the slowest and weakest kid at age 10 may become the fastest or strongest at age 20.

Can you see why this might be significant in how we coach and parent our children?

In a nutshell, we are wise to reserve judgement on who is talented and who is not-talented at age 10, and even at age 15 and 16. Instead, we are smarter if we ensure that every child gets a chance to develop to their full potential by providing quality coaching to all of them regardless of who we think has talent. Chances are that we won’t really have a good sense of who is truly talented until they are around age 18. Or even much older.

As a parent, you might not care if your child ever turns pro, and that’s fine. However, it’s helpful to understand that trainability is a big factor in determining how and why your child may or may not be called “talented” at age 12. It’s also helpful to understand relative age and developmental age and talent identification versus talent development.

If a coach tells you that your 10-year-old son is destined for the pro leagues — or that your 8-year-old daughter will never make it to the Olympics — be skeptical. Assuming your child enjoys his or her sport or activity, the best advice is simply to encourage them to continue to play and train, then wait to see where they end up.

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