Consensus Statement on Training the Elite Child Athlete
Having identified “Training the Elite Child
Athlete” as a theme to be carefully studied, the IOC Medical
Commission (MC) last week held a meeting in Lausanne.
Coordinated by Margo Mountjoy M.D, member of the IOC MC and
Lyle Micheli M.D., of the Harvard Medical School, discussions
involved a group of experts including leading paediatric sports
medicine and scientific experts from around the world as well
as a retired elite child athlete.
During the meeting, relative scientific literature was reviewed
guidelines were produced for the training of the elite child
athlete. At the end of its two-day meeting,
the group of experts adopted a consensus (see below).
This unique document provides information on the principles
of training the child athlete, the identification of overtraining,
as well as specific training recommendations. The purpose
of this document is to improve the health and safety of the
elite child athlete through the promotion of safe training
principles and increase awareness among all the persons in
The Role of the IOC Medical Commission With the establishment
of the World Anti-Doping Agency, the IOC Medical Commission’s
role has moved from primarily handling anti-doping activities
in the world of sport to taking an active role in the promotion
of the health of athletes.
To this end, a series of consensus meetings have been scheduled
covering the following issues:
· Nutrition in Sport 2003
· Sudden Cardiovascular Death in Sport 2004
· Female Athlete Triad 2005
· Training the Elite Child Athlete 2005
Consensus Statement on Training the Elite Child Athlete
Protecting the health of the athlete is the primary goal of
the International Olympic Committee’s Medical Commission.
One of its main objectives is the promotion of safe practices
in the training of the elite child athlete.
The elite child athlete is one who has superior athletic talent,
undergoes specialised training, receives expert coaching and
is exposed to early competition. Sport provides a positive
environment that may enhance the physical growth and psychological
development of children. This unique athlete population has
distinct social, emotional and physical needs which vary depending
on the athlete’s particular stage of maturation.
The elite child athlete requires appropriate training, coaching
and competition that ensure a safe and healthy athletic career
and promote future well-being. This document reviews the scientific
basis of sports training in the child, the special challenges
and unique features of training elite children and provides
recommendations to parents, coaches, health care providers,
sports governing bodies and significant other parties.
Scientific Basis of Training the Elite Child Athlete
Aerobic and anaerobic fitness and muscle strength increase
with age, growth and maturation. Improvement in these variables
is asynchronous. Children experience more marked improvements
in anaerobic and strength performance than in aerobic performance
during pubescence. Boys' aerobic and anaerobic fitness and
muscle strength are higher than those of girls in late pre-pubescence,
and the gender difference becomes more pronounced with advancing
Evidence shows that muscle strength and aerobic and anaerobic
fitness can be further enhanced with appropriately prescribed
training. Regardless of the level of maturity, the relative
responses of boys and girls are similar after adjusting for
An effective and safe strength training programme incorporates
exercises for the major muscle groups with a balance between
agonists and antagonists. The prescription includes a minimum
of two to three sessions per week with three sets, at an intensity
of between 50 to 85% of the one maximal repetition (1RM).
An optimal aerobic training programme incorporates continuous
and interval exercises involving large muscle groups. The
prescription recommends three to four, 40 to 60- minute sessions
per week at an intensity of 85 to 90% of maximum hear t rate
(HRM). An appropriate anaerobic training programme incorporates
high intensity interval training of short duration.
The prescription includes exercise at an intensity above 90%
HRM and of less than 30 seconds duration to take into account
children’s relatively faster recovery following high intensity
exercise. A comprehensive psychological programme includes
the training of psychological skills such as motivation, self-confidence,
emotional control and concentration. The prescription applies
strategies in goal-setting, emotional, cognitive and behavioural
control fostering a positive self-concept in a healthy motivational
Nutrition provided by a balanced, varied and sustainable diet
makes a positive difference in an elite young athlete's ability
to train and compete, and will contribute to optimal lifetime
health. Adequate hydration is essential. Nutrition requirements
vary as a function of age, gender, pubertal status, event,
training regime, and the time of the competitive season. The
nutrition prescription includes adequate hydration and individualises
total energy, macro- and micro-nutrient needs and balance.
With advancing levels of maturity and competitiveness, physiological
and psychological training and nutrition should be sport-specific
with reference to competitive cycles. Confidential, periodic
and sensitive evaluation of training and nutritional status
should include anthropometric measures, sport-specific analyses
and clinical assessment.
Special Issues in the Elite Child Athlete
Physical activity, of which sport is an important component,
is essential for healthy growth and development. The disparity
in the rate of growth between bone and soft tissue places
the child athlete at an enhanced risk of overuse injuries
particularly at the apophyses, the articular cartilage and
the physes (growth plates). Prolonged, focal pain may signal
damage and must always be evaluated in a child.
Overtraining or “burnout” is the result of excessive training
loads, psychological stress, poor periodisation or inadequate
recovery. It may occur in the elite child athlete when the
limits of optimal adaptation and performance are exceeded.
Clearly, excessive pain should not be a component of the
training regimen. In girls, the pressure to meet unrealistic
weight goals often leads to the spectrum of disordered eating,
including anorexia and/or bulimia nervosa. These disorders
may affect the growth process, influence hormonal function,
cause amenorrhoea, low bone mineral density and other serious
illnesses which can be life-threatening.
There are differences in maturation in pubertal children of
the same chronological age that may have unhealthy consequences
in sport due to mismatching.
Elite child athletes deserve to train and compete in a suitable
environment supported by a variety of age-appropriate technical
and tactical training methods, rules, equipment, facilities
and competitive formats.
Elite child athletes deserve to train and compete in a pleasurable
environment, free from drug misuse and negative adult influences,
including harassment and inappropriate pressure from parents,
peers, health care providers, coaches, media, agents and significant
Recommendations for Training the Elite Child Athlete
The recommendations are that:
· more scientific research be done to better identify the
parameters of training the elite child athlete, which must
be communicated effectively to the coach, athlete, parents,
sport governing bodies and the scientific community
· the International Federations and National Sports Governing
Bodies should: - develop illness and injury surveillance programmes
- monitor the volume and intensity of training and competition
- ensure the quality of coaching and adult leadership
- comply with the World Anti -Doping Code
· parents/guardians develop a strong support system to ensure
a balanced lifestyle including proper nutrition, adequate
sleep, academic development, psychological well-being and
opportunities for socialisation
· coaches, parents, sports administrators, the media and
other significant parties should limit the amount of training
and competitive stress on the elite child athlete. The entire
sports process for the elite child athlete should be pleasurable
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