Player Development Programs


To no end, district administrators, coaches, and parents want to provide student-athletes opportunities to succeed. The explosion of training facilities and performance programs has provided unprecedented opportunities for athletic success. Today’s high school athletic programs and club organizations are more competitive than ever. More and more athletic programs are realizing the dramatic benefits a structured Player Development Program can have on success both on and off the field.

Over the last several years the conversation has changed, especially in the Greater Pittsburgh area. There are no shortage of ‘speed & agility classes’ or sport specific branded programs for ‘jumping higher’ or ‘rotational power’. Five years ago I had to explain what performance training entails with the goal of justifying the need to coaches and players. Today it’s different. Sport & skill coaches know off-field training works. The hard part now is sifting through the hype of businesses promoting similar services.

If training for sport is a 100 chapter book, where chapter 1 is the first day you step on the field, and chapter 100 is a full collegiate scholarship, chapter 60 is sets, reps, exercises, etc. Chapter 60 is where most sports organizations want to start performance training and believe that’s where it fits.

We don’t. We start at chapter 1 because it’s the beginning chapters that make the difference.

A Player Development Program is much more than throwing down an agility ladder and running through cones. It’s more than just getting bigger and stronger. It’s goes beyond your coach telling you to work hard, hit the weights, and run faster. A developmental program assess your current skill level on a technical and tactical level, uncovers physical strengths and areas of improvements, and paints the complete picture. The difference is the ability to question why or why not, find an answer, and establish a workable plan.

Not only do Player Development Programs provide athletic opportunities, they also address the big picture: fitness and wellness. Proactive steps are made toward reducing obesity, stimulating motor skills, and structured social interaction with competency. The atmosphere and environment lends strategic thinking, common interests, self esteem, and the feeling of belonging. Athletes learn how to have fun.


1. Separate Player Development Programs from traditional means of speed and strength workouts, and let the difference be evident through results.

2. Work directly with sports and skill coaches to create baseline metrics that are unique to their coaching philosophy. Evaluate players ability levels based on age, competition level, and experience. Analyze the data, work harmoniously (not in spite of) and provide more accurate targets for success. Get beyond generalized statements of ‘you gotta get stronger’. Achieve a common mutually accepted coaching philosophy of  ‘seeing the athlete’ vs. ‘go and do’.

3. Create a three part process that includes Talent Identification, Talent Management, and Player Placement. Take players from initial talent identification and athlete profiling, manage their talents through stages of development, and ultimately assisting them in desired placement.


Player development takes years and should encompass all aspects of sporting performance. The cumulative process is referred as the Process of Attaining Sports Mastery (PASM). The process mirrors the educational system where students are given material to learn, show aptitude, and move to new material. The material presented is progressively more difficult. Aptitude must be satisfactory before new material is presented. The material presented correlates to the grade (8th, 9th, 10th, etc.) From the time you enter school, thirteen years pass before you graduate.

If you parallel the educational system to player development the process becomes evident. Athletes are given a stimulus in many forms. The stimulus given needs to match the stage of development. As the athlete becomes more efficient and effective with any given stimulus, new modes of development are introduced.

The higher the level of PASM, the more new stimulus can be introduced. This can only be done when sufficient levels of physical and mental preparation precedes intense exposure to technical skills. The more physically and mentally prepared athlete (athlete first) allows more time spent increasing sport and positional demands (technical/tactical second). New stimulus isn’t introduced until the current mode is developed satisfactorily. This process spans many years when done correctly.

The key for youth sport coaches is to train and practice sports skills to technical failure, not absolute. The quicker technical failure happens, the bigger role physical/metal limitations are playing in the player’s development. A quote by renown track and field coach Charlie Francis said it best: “Rushing athletes leads to uncertainty down the road.”

Non-Traditional Approach

Traditional strength and conditioning programs take place in large group settings where all players are doing the same program. That program is repeated during the same time of the year, year after year. The same sets, reps, movement patterns, and stimulus is placed on each player. If all players are have the same physical structure, abilities, and needs, this approach can work for a certain amount of time.

We know this isn’t the case. For example, an offseason program geared towards strength that aims for improved lifting via increased numbers can be counterproductive. You’re basically adding strength on top of existing disfunction. Since sports are technically executed per position, not all players present the same needs at exactly the same time. A Player Development Program allows each player to be assessed for individual strengths and areas of improvement. This allows for a more controlled approach that’s measurable, manageable, and motivational.


Athletic enhancement has been around since the first Olympic Games, and I’m sure for many years prior. What hasn’t been around forever is the application of Sports Science. Working with athletes as a paid and reputable profession is relatively new. With that newness comes uncertainty. Only in the last couple years have we merged technology with sports on a scientific level. It’s believed that the information in the Sports Science field doubles every 18 months.

With new technologies we are able to rely more on facts rather than industry ‘gurus’ and general fitness trainers. The goal is to develop athletes with factual analytic data combined with real world experience. Less and less emphasis is placed on subjected hunches about what an athlete does or doesn’t do, needs or doesn’t need.

For nerds like me this is incredibly exciting.

For coaches and parents like you this should be incredibly encouraging.

Sports Science and Player Development

Using what we’re learning from Sports Science information, we are able to start desiging more appropriate training regimes to meet the demand of the sports we play. The natural progression for any athlete should be exposure to many sports. Youth should be encouraged quick movements with high turnover using only their bodyweight. After the child expresses interest and physical/mental maturity different modes of structured training can be introduced.


I am not a proponent of early specialized training, nor forcing kids to play multiple organized sports. I am however a huge advocate of guided and free play activities throughout our entire lives. No amount of data will ever replace a work ethic to attain a meaningful target.

It’s our job as parents and coaches to realize general approaches in programming has its place but we also can’t ignore the facts. Our Player Development Programs aim to combine what we already know and raise the bar. While it seems everyone wants to generalize everything into a one-off ‘program’ I believe we owe it to our athletes to ask the right questions to find them the best answers.