A developmentally appropriate framework for sports recognizes that kids are not adults, encourages personal improvement and doesn’t push too much, too soon.
Challenge //   Too much, too soon
Design for development.
If a local facility is the hardware in a child’s sport experience, then a developmentally appropriate program is the software. Leading sport governing bodies recognize it as the organizing framework to deliver what kids need to grow as both athletes and people. Adoption of it is seen as a tool to stem attrition, advance physical literacy, and debunk some of the misperceptions that parents and coaches have about athletic development.
A developmentally appropriate framework recognizes that kids are not miniature adults, or even teenagers. Most lack the neural connections to throw straight before age 6. Most kids struggle to strike balls before age 8. Few kids can jump with proficiency until age 10 or 11.(42) Even then, many still can’t get their minds around “don’t bunch up around the ball!” Plenty still believe in the Tooth Fairy. So let’s give them an experience that recognizes their mental, emotional, and physical stages of development, and progressively builds on each.
The U.S. Olympic Committee (USOC) has pledged to introduce sanity into the system. Last year, its leadership embraced the American Development Model (ADM), a potentially game-changing initiative to “unify national governing bodies and community programs in keeping Americans active in sport longer.” The model combines sport, play, education, and health through a five-stage pathway based on a child’s growing capacities. The first principle is a commitment to fun, as kids define it at each age level.(43)
KIDS NEED A NEW MEASURE OF SUCCESS: PERSONAL IMPROVEMENT
Parents tend to assume that skills are best developed in full-size, organized games. But on a field or court of 16 to 22 players, and with just one ball, a child only gets so many touches. ADM encourages training sessions where lots of balls can be used and foundational motor skills can be developed more easily in low-pressure environments. The philosophy holds the prospect of making room for the late bloomer, given the early emphasis on individual development over team achievement. Baseball Canada began to see participation rise in 2006, when it moved to a model in which kids get colored hats for reaching developmental milestones.(44)
Since the USOC’s announcement, all 48 affiliated sport national governing bodies — from USA Swimming to USA Table Tennis — have endorsed ADM. Now, the heavier lift: developing ADM plans tailored for each sport, pushing awareness into the grassroots, and adjusting policies and competition structures that align with the model. That, and ensuring underserved communities have access to the same resources.
How To Build An Athlete For Life
USA Hockey's first three stages of American Development Model
The Aspen Institute recognizes select organizations that take new, specific, meaningful action aligned with each play. Apply to be a Project Play Champion.
2015 PROJECT PLAY SUMMIT
Design for Development: an introduction
2016 PROJECT PLAY SUMMIT
Design for Development: Where To Next with the American Development Model?
2017 PROJECT PLAY SUMMIT
Design for Development: What is Basketball's Role in Reforming Youth Sports?
“All children should be encouraged to participate in sports at a level consistent with their abilities and interests.”
Statement from summary of key recommendations by health/medical groups, for Project Play
USA Hockey pioneered ADM, introducing the model in 2011 to stem attrition — 43 percent of kids were quitting the sport by age 9 — and develop more skilled players. Coach and parent education on best practices at each age group were pushed down the pipeline. Bodychecking and national championships were eliminated at the 12-and-under age level. A 3:1 practice-to-game ratio was promoted, and the pucks were made lighter. Clubs were asked to play 4 vs. 4 cross-ice at the youngest age groups, allowing more kids on the ice at a lower cost to families. A 2014 study found ADM delivered physical activity and skill instruction to 60 percent more kids. Hockey is now one of the few team sports with rising participation.(45)