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Periodisation - Working towards a long-term plan for young athletes

Tony Paladin explains the steps to planning the training for young athletes.

Coaches need to be aware that appropriate programming is necessary for improving performance, but it is also essential for reducing the risk of injury to young athletes. Overtraining or incorrect training, programming can be a contributing factor to many injuries in young athletes. When developing a season or annual training plan for young athletes, there is a fundamental process that can be followed to ensure that consideration is taken to minimise many of the factors which could bring about injuries.

Developing an annual/seasonal training plan for school-age athletes

Diplock et al. (1999)[3]

  • Step 1: Identify the major events for which the athletes must peak. Include any essential dates in the plan, including training camps, school holidays and exams.
  • Step 2: Work chronologically backwards from this date outlining the weeks and months to the current date.
  • Step 3: Divide the plan into three major training phases of a training plan (preparation, pre-competition, and competition)
  • Step 4: Break each phase into the desired macrocycles and microcycles, incorporating appropriate loading and unloading (recovery) periods. A general recommendation for young school-age athletes is to have a three-week macrocycle where you have two weeks of loading followed by one-week unloading or recovery.
  • Step 5: Determine the target training load percentages for each phase.
  • Step 6: Incorporate a method of monitoring the progress of the athletes into the plan, e.g. time trials, fitness tests, game rehearsals etc.

Designing a weekly plan for school-age athletes

This process is recommended more for senior athletes, as junior athletes should be emphasising technical development. Diplock et al. (1999)[3]

  • Step 1: Identify which phase the particular week occurs in and observe the target training load percentages for that phase
  • Step 2: Observe the number of minutes, distance or performance target for that week
  • Step 3: Determine the number of minutes and/or distance for each training zone for that week
  • Step 4: Select the suitable training protocols to achieve these training goals " Step 5: Record and monitor your plan

When designing a program for young athletes, the coach should follow the following program design methodology. The following figures refer to microcycles for training days throughout the week.

Young athletes should follow the "light-hard-light-hard" progression, whilst older and more developed athletes can follow the "light-medium-hard-light" cycle.

Training Phases

For the coach that is training children over the longer term, the year can be divided into 12 months of training. If the season is shorter, the following principles are applied but over a shorter period. The first month is the month immediately after the end of the season. Usually, the targeted or peak competition concludes the sports season. Therefore, month 12 should be the peak competition, the national championships, the regional championship or the World Championships.

The coach should decide on the peak competition for each athlete and count backwards to establish the number of the relevant months of training. If the national or world championships is the peak competition and it is in September, then October is month one. This program divides the year into six main phases. They are listed below with their relative aims:

Phase Aim Month
Recovery period Active recovery Month 1
Early preparation period General strength and endurance Months 2 and 3
Preparation period Maximum strength and general endurance Months 4 and 5
Pre-competition period Maximum strength and specific endurance Months 6 and 7
Early competition period Specific endurance and sport technique Months 8 and 9
Peak competition period Race/match preparation and peak performance
Months 10, 11 & 12

Increasing the load appropriately

Understanding the methods used to increase training load is essential for any coach of young athletes. The amount that children and youths will improve in a particular sport is a direct result of the amount and quality of work they achieve in training. From the early stages of development through to high-performance, athletes must increase their workload in training gradually, according to individual needs. (Bompa 1999; Croly 2001)[1,2]

During the early stages of development, it is not easy to monitor training loads, because many increases are the result of average growth and development. A coach can progressively increase training programs for young, developing athletes in the following areas:

  • Duration of sessions: The length of each training session can increase from the beginning of each season to the end
  • Number of Exercises: Athletes can expand the number of drills and exercises they perform per training session over months and years. An increase in technical drills will lead to significant advances. However, as the number of exercises increases, the coach must closely monitor the rest intervals between them. Longer rest intervals will give the children more energy to perform all the work for that training session
  • The frequency of Training Sessions: To constantly and progressively challenge the bodies of young athletes toward improved performance, you must regularly increase the frequency of training sessions per week. This is essential because skill development occurs during practice and not during competition. For young athletes to master the skills of the sport and develop the motor abilities for future competitions, they must have more training sessions than competitions. There should be a ratio of at least three practices to one competition although this ratio should ideally be 4-6 practices per competition
  • Weeks of Training: Extending the season so there are more weeks before the competition period starts will lead to significant improvement in performance. The ideal situation is to practice for most months of the year as this will lead to better development of skills and motor abilities
  • Months of Training: As children become older (16+) and more experienced, they should commit more months to train in a specific sport if they desire high-performance results. At first, they should increase the duration of the training, then the frequency and then the number of exercises.

Working towards a long-term plan

By applying most of the principles and rules that have been discussed thus far in conjunction with a little common sense, it is not hard to develop a long-term program that takes a young athlete and turns him or her into a successful senior athlete.

The key, however, all revolves around making it fun! As much as you, the coach, enjoy having fun, so do your young athlete. If you no longer participate in a sport, this is a good opportunity to ask yourself why you no longer compete. The answer is probably because you were not enjoying it as much as other aspects of your life. One could even go as far as to say that if you were enjoying your sport to the absolute maximum, you would quite happily sacrifice the time to do it.

The big challenge that you face as the coach is trying to instil exercise and training ethic into the "PlayStation Generation"! Your single biggest challenge as the coach is to make training and participating in sport more fun than the Internet.


In summary, a long-term training plan needs the following elements:

  • Correct and sufficient multilateral development before specialisation
  • Appropriate training volume and intensity
  • Correct periodisation
  • Appropriate loading of the work progressively and sufficiently throughout the season and from year to year
  • Correct balancing of the various modalities of training, i.e. flexibility, trunk stability, resistance training (strength and power), endurance training (aerobic & anaerobic threshold training and lactate tolerance) and speed training
  • Ensuring appropriate recovery between sessions to keep young athletes fresh
  • Make it fun over the long-term

Make the young athlete excited about training and being fit.

Article Reference

This article first appeared in:

  • PALADIN, T. (2005) Periodisation - Working towards a long-term plan for young athletes. Brian Mackenzie's Successful Coaching, (ISSN 1745-7513/ 19 / February), p. 3-4


  1. BOMPA, T. (1999) Total training for young champions. USA, Human Kinetics
  2. CROLY, J. (2001) Rowing: A guide to developing high performance. RSA, Private Press
  3. DIPLOCK, W. et al. (1999) Fundamentals of Injury Prevention and Maximising Performance in School Age Rowers. Aus, Rowing Qld. Inc. Publication

Page Reference

If you quote information from this page in your work, then the reference for this page is:

  • PALADIN, T. (2005) Periodisation - Working towards a long-term plan for young athletes [WWW] Available from: [Accessed

About the Author

Tony Paladin is a qualified personal fitness trainer, spinning instructor and rowing coach. He has represented South Africa in Rowing 7 times at various World Championships and World Cups, been 12 times national rowing champion and under 23 World Championship silver medallist. He has a BSc. WITS (Human Kinetics, Physiology and Psychology) and is currently studying BSc. Biokinetics Honours.