March 19, 2015

Athlete Development - The Process

During the mid-20 century, the former Soviet Union and Eastern Bloc countries had well developed sport schools whose main aim was to identify, select and train young athletes to succeed at the regional, national and international level. Athletes entered these schools at a young age – usually between 6 to 9 years of age.  During this period, the young athlete was exposed to wide variety of skills and sporting activities.  As the child developed and began to display athletic potential and personal interest in a particular sport, they were nurtured along the path of athletics.  Selection, assessment and evaluation were a continual process, with training priority given to those athletes who displayed the most potential in the chosen sport.  As the athlete increased in chronological age, athletic skill was developed and a greater refinement of direction and level of training for the particular sport occurred.  This was the development process was the first step in the ‘Process of Achieving Sports Mastery (PASM),’ or performance at the highest level.

The athletic development curriculum at these school was schools was based on the research of  A. Novikov and N.G. Ozolin on the concurrent system of long-term training. During the first few years, all children performed a variety of sports such as soccer, running, skating, gymnastics, rowing, track and field, and team sports.  This period of multilateral development was known as general physical preparation (GPP).  The main goal of GPP was to order develop functional work capacities and a wide variety of motor skills that would serve as a base for increased athletic development and performance at the higher levels. During this time, sport-specific training was limited, and constituted only 5-10% of the training load.  There was also a considerable amount of the time during the training directed to educating the athlete on sport-specific basics and fundamental techniques.

Specialized physical preparation (SPP) programs began between 15 –17 years, once children were selected for a particular sport.  SPP included training that was aimed at developing physical, technical, tactical and psychological adaptations that would be necessary to succeed in the given sport.  During this period, the training was more structured and exercises were chosen were specifically prepare the athlete to succeed in the sport of choice.  As the athlete progressed in training age, GPP was not totally omitted from the training program.  GPP was kept in the program to some degree to help build and maintain strength and physical work capacity, as well as providing a break from the specific training of the particular sport. However, as the training of the athlete advanced, the ratio between GPP (multilateral development) and SPP (specialized training) decreased.  When the athlete first began the athletic development process, GPP constituted roughly 60% of the total training activities, while 40% was dedicated to sport-specific education and activities.  As the athlete’s work capacity grew and the training process progressed, the proportion of SPP in the program increased, while the proportion of GPP included decreased. This trend gradually increased as the athlete progressed towards high performance level – sports mastery.  GPP was never totally eliminated, and even at the highest levels GPP constitutes approximately 20% of the total training volume, while SPP comprised the main body (80%).


  1. In the book system of the multi year if training they started the SPP before the age of 15-17. They started them at 13 years of age.

  2. Very accurate portrayal of the Soviet system. I saw the USSR
    national volleyball team play in the 80's and there warm up looked
    a circus act !

  3. Really informative post. It's interesting to see how the USSR trained their young athletes. Thanks for sharing!