The “Immature” Athlete: Late Developer? Or Under-developed?

I listened to a really great Podcast the other day featuring David Epstein, author of the Athlete Gene and what he said was pretty astounding and eye opening regarding the maturity process of certain athletes, and the “selection” process of those athletes graded only in terms of physical readiness.

The late bloomers

I thought that I would specifically take time to write out a response not only because I could relate to the experience of being overlooked by coaches, but also for the many other athletes at the high school level who get overlooked and to help give parents a better understanding.

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One topic that stood out to me that Epstein mentions is coming to terms with the fact that each individual athlete is bio mechanically different. That no two athletes are physiologically built the same way, and that each has their own unique traits that have to be uniquely developed to reach their fullest potential as athletes.

And when it comes to developing such athletes for a specific sport, there is no such thing as a “one size fit all” scheme that can most effectively address their athletic needs.

Epstein mentioned what he called the “Low Baseline High Responder” condition, in which an athlete physiologically is not capacitated to adapt quickly enough to his or her sport, BUT matures extremely efficiently and responds well when coached appropriately.

In other words, a kid may not be physically competitive in comparison to more developed athletes his or her age, but are highly trainable and can physiologically respond and advance to that level at a faster rate than others.

However, the stipulation being that the athlete must be in the right coaching system, since certain methods will not draw the same response as others.

I found this especially intriguing with respect to the selection process of coaches at the high school level.

While this is fortunate to know from a performance perspective, the unfortunate aspect is when a coach does not (or is incapable of) recognizing the physical attributes of an athlete and fails to appropriately develop her.

Another point Epstein discussed is when a coach equates talent solely to his physical disposition. In other words, because a kid may be more physically mature and able to perform better in sport AT THAT CURRENT TIME, that he will have a better shot at succeeding.

The problem does not lie in the fact that athletes who are “more developed” get selected before others, it is when they are selected at the expense of other athletes who are NOT as physically capable at that point in time, and can be developed into better overall athletes.

I related this to the fact that some kids are easily overlooked rather than developed accordingly because at that current time they were not able to perform to the coaches’ liking, selecting only those who were “biomechanically” ready.

The biggest flaw in this system of selection is not being able to recognize when an athlete is trainable versus physiologically ready.

As Epstein stated, there are athletes that are low baseline but high responder. And to elaborate more on this, he stated that elite athleticism is not just a sole characteristic of genetics, but of the right training and the correct training system at the right time.

Certain training systems will elicit different responses.

Though the depth of the podcast goes much further than discussed in my response, the main takeaway is that fact that athletes don’t have to be born with “it” to succeed, you just need to be in the right system of learning.


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