Learning to Train is the most important stage for the development of sport specific skills (technique). It is also stage where participants may begin to more actively engage in competition, though preparation for competition is not the focus. Many children may begin to develop a preference for a given sport, however for full athletic development skaters need to engage in a broad range of activities and should continue to be active in two to three other sports throughout the year. Focusing on a single sport is strongly discouraged.
Participants are of late elementary school age and need to participate in a variety of well-structured club based activities which focus on the development of speed skating technique, while keeping the learning environment fun. The Cutting Edge Program or other tools should be used to monitor skill development. Most skaters will practice on long blades, though it is possible for basic technique to still be introduced on hockey skates. Where possible skaters are encouraged to participate in both short track and long track skating.
Racing on skates should be a regular part of skating programs, with skaters progressively being introduced to formal competitions at a local and regional level. Mini-meets and formal competitions should feature a combination of short races on a track of 100m or less, an introduction to endurance and team events as well as skill based events which reinforce the development skating specific skills.
The Learning to Train stage of development is a great stage to take up speed skating. It is the stage where many Olympic speed skaters took up the sport. Participants who have learned to skate through hockey, figure skating or technique will be able to rapidly acquire speed skating skills and focus developing technique. For those who have never skated before, it will take a little longer to catch-up to skaters of the same age as they will have to first acquire fundamental skating skills. For all skaters, it is important to take the time to learn proper speed skating technique even if they have the strength to skate quickly.
The end of the Learning to Train stage is not marked by age, but rather, the onset of puberty. There is a simple way to track the onset of puberty and the rapid growth that accompanies it. Many parents go through the birthday ritual of measuring how tall a child has become – and often have the birthday heights etched on the kitchen doorframe. Recording these heights shows us how tall the child is. If we look at how much the child has grown since their last birthday we get a measure of how fast they are growing. This is called “height velocity”.
During the years from about age six until the onset of puberty, children grow at a fairly constant rate – usually five to six centimetres per year. If the value increases, you’ll know the child is starting the adolescent growth spurt and that puberty is not far behind. Recording and plotting height every three months from about age eight onwards provides an even more accurate picture. See “The Role of Measuring Growth in Long-term Athlete Development”. By keeping track of this information, it will be easier to determine which training and competitive events are developmentally appropriate for each skater. Through puberty, skaters of the same “chronological age” can be up to 5 years apart in terms of developmental age.