The Training Principle Of Individuality & Age Appropriateness

The principle of individuality is one of the most misunderstood training principles, and in addition, very often overrated in its’ importance.

At the core of this principle stands the premise that you can’t make a donkey into a racehorse.

Donkey To Race Horse Training Principle Individualization

You can’t make a donkey into a racehorse is one of the best expressions for the training principle of individualization

Before we get started, I will dissect this article into individuality and age appropriateness, hence there are parts focusing on individuality, and there are other parts focusing on age appropriateness.

In this article, you’ll learn

Why the principle of individuality is one of the most misunderstood training principle

The individuality training principle is one of the least understood or most misunderstood training principles.

For the simple reason that it is often referred to as the most important training principle, however, if you have followed the structure of training principles, that there are

  • training principles to elicit an adaptation
  • training principles to secure adaptations
  • training principles to direct adaptations
Training Principles table What Are The Different Training Principles

This table shows the different training principles, the implication of each training principle and the biological basis for each training principle.

By looking at this table, you realize that the quote-unquote individuality principle is part of the ‘training principles to direct adaptations’, hence, you need to elicit an adaptation, and you need to secure adaptations, before thinking about individualizing.

The basic premise of the principle of individuality and age-appropriateness

The performance of an athlete is the sum of an interplay of different factors.

What does that mean?

For an optimal development of an athlete, these different factors need to be considered and addressed.

What are these factors?

What is the basic premise for the claim of individuality

These factors can be divided into nature and nurture. If you’re not familiar with the terms of nature and nurture, nature is basically internal factors and nurture is external factors.

In very simple terms individuality can be broken down into nature and nurture.

Nature can be genetic inheritance and predispositions as well as biological factors such as anthropometry, whilst nurture are external factors, that could be upbringing and education, experience, behavior.

What is the basic premise for the claim of age appropriateness

The World Health Organization stated in their position paper in 2008, ‘Children are not mini-adults and therefore, they should not be treated like adults.’

Children are not mini-adults and therefore, they should not be treated like adults.

Hence children are unique in many ways and different from adults, and therefore require different treatments, in the broadest sense of the word.

The biological basis for the training principle of individuality and age-appropriateness

Let’s look at individuality first.

The underlying biological principle is that there is so-called individual adaptability.

I have outlined that, according to Kraemer and Zatsiorsky (and myself), adaptation as the biological principle is the main rule of training.

What’s the biological basis for individuality

So, the underlying biological principle behind this training principle of individuality and age appropriateness, is the individual adaptability, the magnitude of individual adaptability, and the maximal functional capacity.

Individuality refers to the individual adaptability, the magnitude of individual adaptability and the maximal functional capacity.

In essence, the individual adaptability, the magnitude, and the maximal functional capacity is different between individuals is why you can’t make a donkey into a racehorse.

What’s the biological basis for age appropriateness

First things first, during adolescence, the human goes through different stages of growth and development.

What does that mean?

And what’s the difference between growth and development?

Growth refers to the measurable physical change of a human, check out this simplified image of the growth curve of a human

Human Growth boys vs girls Developers LTAD

Simplified human growth chart comparing boys vs girls

In this growth curve of a human, you can clearly see that growth, and rates of growth, change through adolescence.

There’s a steady rate of growth, before puberty, then there is a spike in growth called the growth spurt, then there is a point where the growth is highest, also known as PHV (peak height velocity), and then there is a decrease of growth and a cessation of growth.

It is important to note, that the growth rates vary between genders, girls mature a bit earlier than boys, and also the magnitude varies. The magnitude is higher in boys compared to girls.

And to bring things together, there is also a combination of age appropriateness and individuality, meaning different individuals go through this growth differently. The majority of adolescents are the so-called ‘normal developers’, but there are also ‘early developers’, also called accelerated in their growth, and there are also ‘late developers’ also called retarded in development. Retarded refers to growth, not the mental development.

Check out this simplified image on different rates of growth, and ‘early developers’, ‘normal developers’ and ‘late developers’.

Human Growth Early Developers vs Normal Developers vs Late Developers LTAD

Simplified human growth chart comparing early developers vs normal developers vs late developers

And very simplified development refers to the cognitive, functional, and emotional change during the different stages.

This is an entire topic in itself and would go beyond the scope of this article, so stay tuned for future updates.

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The practical application of the principle of individuality and age-appropriateness

So now, that we have discussed the basic premise of individuality and age-appropriateness, and the biological basis for individuality and age-appropriateness, how can we use that information practically?

Let’s start with individuality.

The training principle of individuality practically applied

I know people will love this image, because it’s very, very complicated, and people like complicated things.

This is a model from Professor Dr. Tidow, and I was fortunate to learn under him during the early days in my studies. Professor Tidow came up with the idea that there are different adaptive types and developed the following model.

Adaptation to training adaptive magnitude and adaptive reserve

Modeled adaptive types and adaptive reserves of different athletes

Basically, there are 3 different types, type A, type B, and type C, and there’s a limit of the current individual performance.

The hypothesis is that different types have a different adaptive reserve, which means that the maximal individual performance is different for different types.

And Professor Tidow hypothesized that type A is a type where adaptation takes much longer, he came up with a ‘seven-month adaptation type’, type B is a ‘five-month adaptation type’ and type C is a ‘three-month adaptation type’.

I myself am a bit unsure, whether the 3-month, 5-month, and 7-month hold true for different types of adaptations. You saw in previous articles, that different subsystems go through the adaptive process at different rates.

However, essentially this model explains that the individual adaptability is different. The magnitude is different, and the maximum functional capacity.

If you look at the image, you can see that first the magnitude is different between A, B, and C. Type C reaches the highest level, and Type A reaches the lowest level, and Type B is in between the two.

A different magnitude also means that the maximal functional capacity is different between, Type A, Type B, and Type C.

What does all this mean?

You can’t make a donkey into a racehorse, but you can make the donkey into the best donkey it could possibly be.

The bottom-line again is, that you can’t make a donkey into a racehorse but there’s a big but. And this is what we have to do as coaches, you can make the donkey into the best donkey it could possibly be.

Let’s look at age appropriateness.

The training principle of age appropriateness practically applied

I outlined that the basic premise is that children are not little adults, and therefore they shouldn’t be treated like adults.

This is a practical example, of what I’ve done with a former colleague of mine, Terry Peters [credit where credit is due], where we looked at the structure in a professional football club.

Development blueprint Vitesse Arnhem football athletic development

Development blueprint from junior football player to professional football player

And we looked at how should training be done in through the different age groups.

Our basic question was ‘How can we give the younger age groups a better chance to get to the professional team, and succeed at the professional level?’

Unfortunately, too often, you see that the training of the younger age groups is a trimmed-down version of what the professionals do.

Unfortunately, too often, you see that the training of the younger age groups is a trimmed-down version of what the professionals do.

And again, what did WHO say?

Children are not mini-adults. So the question stands out, why should the children and youth athletes train the same as the adult athletes?

And then we divided the age groups into the phases of pre-puberty, puberty, post-puberty, and adulthood. And we use the terminology of Balyi from his LTAD approach, ‘Learning To Train’, ‘Training To Train’, ‘Training To Compete’ and ‘Training To Win’. And then we came up with the fact sheet, a blueprint, and guidelines, on how training should look in these different age groups?

The idea again is, children are not mini-adults and they have to go through a different training regimen, which is appropriate to their age, their stage of growth, and their stage of development.

Rounding up the training principle of individuality and age-appropriateness

The principle of individuality and age appropriateness is based on the premise that individuality is influenced by nature and nurture, and that the growth and development of adolescents are simply different from adults.

The biological basis is that individual adaptability is different. The magnitude is different, and the maximum functional capacity is different.

And in order to maximize training results, you need to consider and address these different factors.