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Quadrennial Planning for the High School Athlete

Jeffreys, Ian MS, CSCS*D, NSCA-CPT*D

Strength & Conditioning Journal: June 2008 - Volume 30 - Issue 3 - p 74-83
doi: 10.1519/SSC.0b013e3181775ae2


University of Glamorgan, Pontypridd, Wales, United Kingdom

Ian Jeffreys is Senior Lecturer in strength and conditioning at the University of Glamorgan, Wales, and the Proprietor and Performance Director of All-Pro Performance in Brecon, Wales.



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Developing a high level athlete takes a considerable time, and within this development the high school years afford coaches a crucial time in optimally developing talent. The presence of an effective performance enhancement program, of which strength and conditioning plays a major part, can significantly assist an athlete in attaining their full potential (22). In order to optimize development, it is important that a development program provides athletes with the training programs, performance education and performance environment that facilitates optimal development. The presence of an effective multi-disciplinary talent development model would seem to be a vital step in the full development of talent (25). Indeed a research summary into optimal talent identification and development programs concluded that without the correct experience and opportunity optimum performance may never be achieved (26).

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In providing an optimal development model, a great deal of current opinion suggests the advantage of long term planning in the optimization of athletic talent (1). However in most previous research into talent identification and development cross sectional rather than longitudinal approaches have been adopted (25). Given this, there is little data on optimal athletic development models in high schools, and so any recommendations made must be based upon conjecture, expert opinion and reviews of multi-disciplinary work on the development of expertise both in athletics and other mediums.

Given the number of reviews suggesting the advantages of long term approaches to athlete development, (1,2,22,25,26), it would seem logical to examine whether high school performance programs may benefit from this type of long term approach to program planning. This article looks at how quadrennial plans can provide high school coaches with structures around which to build programs that optimize player development, allowing individuals to maximize their potential. Quadrennial plans involve planning over a four year period, rather than a single year, and have developed from Olympic models, where four year development plans are utilized. The four years of a high school career lend themselves ideally to this form of planning. At all times it must be kept in mind, that, given the lack of empirical longitudinal evidence supporting these models, the model proposed here is theoretical in nature, and based on expert reviews, committee reports together with the author's observations and experience.

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Despite the growing evidence of the effectiveness of long term models of athletic development (1,2,22,25,26), most periodized plans are still built around single year cycles (3), governed largely by the demands of team coaches, game schedules, etc. With the demands for instant high performance, the main emphasis of training is often on achieving peak performance in each school year, rather than on planning for the long term development of the athlete, with this process often being driven by team coaches, overbearing parents, and the schools emphasis on the win/loss record. In this way, focus is often on training for short term competitive performance, rather than on development and optimizing future potential. However, while this can facilitate performance in the early years, this short term approach to training and performance can be detrimental to the optimal development of the athlete (22), and ultimate performance potential may be compromised.

This short term focus on performance, and the associated sport specialization at a much younger age (14) can also lead to problems in terms of overuse injuries, (6,9,4). As well as physical problems, the sport specialization, together with the focus on competitive performance at a young age can lead to burnout and situations where children are put off sports participation altogether (6).

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As well as their potential effect on overuse injuries and burnout, a close examination of key athlete development principles suggests that traditional short term, performance based approaches, may not be optimal for the development of athletic performance (22). These short term approaches, involving single year cycles, where the emphasis is on competitive performance rather than development, may not be optimal on either both a skill learning and a training accumulation basis. While these may produce short term results, they may in fact limit, long term development and compromise future performance. If the aim of the program is to optimize the full potential of every athlete, then this form of short-term development, emphasizing current performance over long-term development may not be conducive to the end aim (1). Where the emphasis of programs is on competitive performance from day one, then the aim of each year will be on training for short term performance, and not on the long term development of the athlete. In reality, basic skills take a time to be mastered, and are based upon the establishment of stable motor patterns (16,17), and this requires extensive quality practice. The development of stable effective motor patterns is often not possible where the aim is preparation for short term performance. Additionally, the optimal environment for developing basic skills varies from the optimum environment for developing high end skills (21). Short term approaches can result in an athlete being progressed to more advanced drills prior to the establishment of these stable patterns, and in this way, future performance can be compromised, as unstable skills will often break down under pressure.

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Expert performance is dependent upon an extensive period of accumulation in training, and extensive skill based practice (12). For this reason, it is important that high schools utilize a model of development that allows for these factors to be in place, if athlete performance is to be optimized. One of the advantages of a high school structure is that players will be within the program for four years, and so coaches have the stability of this time period within which to optimize player development. High school coaches can therefore ensure that the key elements leading to optimal performance are in place, by taking a longer term approach to the application of their training model. By taking a longer term, quadrennial, approach to the development of the athlete through the high school years, greater advantage can be taken of many of the training and development opportunities that afford themselves at the high school level.

With quadrennial plans, each year of the four years will have different aims and objectives, all sequentially leading to optimal performance in the senior year, rather than having four separate annual plans geared to short term competitive objectives. In this way, each year within the model can be optimally tailored to achieve specific aims and objectives, all sequentially building to optimal performance in the senior year and beyond. The quadrennial plan can be built around optimizing athletic development from a number of perspectives, maximizing the training application at each stage of this development. This quadrennial model will comprise of a number of sub models, all aimed at optimally developing the performance requirements of sports, and addressing all the key components of fitness. In this way, optimal application of aspects such as motor learning, physiological adaptation, sequencing of training, etc., can be achieved.

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As so many physical characteristic required for elite performance are based on sequential development (3), then it is logical that the process of achieving optimal development should emphasize a staged progression (22). For example, maximum speed capabilities are maximized with effective running technique, combined with high levels of power, which is in turn based upon effective strength capacity. The quadrennial plan should therefore be based on optimal skill development processes, together with the appropriate sequential development of key fitness characteristics. Ideally this should also be related to the important biological, psychological and social development periods in a person's life (22). In this way understanding elements such as the influence of peak height velocity, the influence of peer groups, the requirements for focused practice, etc., need to be incorporated into the program. The whole pathway must emphasize the role of quality preparation and delivery, focusing on performance in the long term rather than winning as a short term objective (22).

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As with all performance planning, the start of the plan should be based upon the final aim of the program (3), namely the type of athlete the program is trying to develop. While the short term performance based programs of development are common in many high school programs, in many cases these systems are in place simply because things have always been done in this way, and are based more on the requirements of the team coaches, than on the development of the athlete. This is congruent with the pre-occupation with current performance over long-term development which is common throughout sport (1). Once a coach looks beyond this, and works from a completely clean slate of development a whole new perspective on athlete development can be laid out. Covey (8) emphasizes that development programs should always have at their very outset a clear picture of what they want to achieve, “start with the end in mind.”

In terms of athlete development any effective performance plan needs to be based around the final product it is attempting to produce. Once the coach has a clear vision of the type of athlete they are trying to produce, it is possible to work back, and develop a program that optimally develops this type of athlete. This provides an overall blueprint for a long term athlete development model, and by establishing clear goals for each stage of development, the model can be used to optimize long term athlete development, maximizing the full potential of the athlete.

It is important to note that these models will ultimately be different for each sport, and may often vary between playing positions. For example, football linemen will need a far greater degree of muscle mass than wide receivers, who, in turn, will need a far greater degree of maximal speed. These differences should be a key part of the quadrennial plan, and should guide the whole planning process. By looking at the athlete four years down the line, the optimal development plan can be instigated, designed to optimize their full potential rather than simply get them into playing condition in the short term. A key in this will be the identification of the rate limiting factors for the sport, playing position and for the individual athlete. Rate limiting factors can be seen as the key determinants of elite performance for a given sport and given position (10), and will be the key factors that will influence, and ultimately limit, the maximum potential an athlete can aspire to. For example acceleration and maximum speed capabilities will be key rate limiting factors for wide receivers and defensive backs, and should be a key element in any programs for these athletes. These factors can be identified through primary research together with consultation with team coaches, College coaches, etc., to determine what they consider the key elements they look for in performers. Primary data should focus on research papers such as Gabbett et al. (13) that identify the key performance characteristics of elite players in specific sports, together with task analyses of sports and of playing positions.

This information can provide key criteria against which each individual can be evaluated and an appropriate development program set out. In this way, additional time can be spent on developing the rate limiting factors for the athlete and sport, rather than on preparing the athlete for competition in the short term. This type of planning assists in ensuring that the athletes maximize their chance of fulfilling their full potential. For example the wide receivers highlighted earlier will need to spend a great deal of time on basic movement mechanics and on developing the physical characteristics that optimize speed development. Offensive linemen on the other hand will need to devote appropriate accumulated training time on developing appropriate levels of body mass and strength, and will spend less time on maximum speed mechanics.

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While for the strength and conditioning coach it is likely that physical characteristics will be at the heart the program (and the focus of this paper), it is important to take a multidimensional view of the type of athlete and type of person a program is trying to develop. Many of the key attributes of successful performers are psychological and behavioral in nature (1) such as adopting a “can do” solution focused approach, demonstrating motivation, utilizing goal setting, utilizing performance evaluation techniques, effective planning, quality practice (1,26). Given the importance of these psycho-behavioral characteristics of elite performance, the ideal quadrennial plan should focus on developing an athlete as an all round performer stressing psychological, emotional and physical development. Athletes armed with these skills are more likely to be able to interact with the environment within the high school programs and consistently demonstrate the behaviors associated with success, optimizing the time spent on structured, effortful activity (12), with the specific goal of improving performance (25).

Through this program, key elements supporting high performance such as developing the athlete's performance lifestyle (18,19), creating a high performance environment within the program (25), and also developing the key psychological and behavioral skills and attributes that contribute to success (26), (both within and outside the athletic arena) can play a crucial role in the overall athletic program, and significantly enhance its ultimate success. Indeed the overall performance environment fostered within the program is crucial as “performance will only be developed in an environment which facilitates the individual's capacity to develop” (22). Indeed, this emphasis on the total development of the athlete as a person as well as an athlete can be a crucial contribution to the individual both in athletics and in life.

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For any athlete to achieve their full potential and to be able to perform over an extended period of time, the quality of life decisions, away from the athletic environment will be crucial. While a supportive environment is crucial to performance (25), an athlete will spend a great deal of time away from this environment (18,19), and thus the decisions they make in this time will play a large part in the success of any program (18). To optimize performance, athletes will need to create their own performance lifestyle and make decisions which optimize long term performance (19). While the scope of this article does not cover this vital concept, it is one that needs to be considered by coaches. Additionally, athletes need to develop the emotional and psychological skills which promote extended periods of high performance, which is again beyond the scope of this paper, but does need to be considered when planning the full high school program.

Fundamental to both of the above aims is appropriate education into key areas that athletes need to address to create this environment. Aspects such as nutrition, goal setting, psychological skills, etc., can create an appropriate educational “syllabus” around which to build an educational plan (18). Additionally, athletes need to be empowered to put any guidelines into action (19), and again this needs to be built into the quadrennial plan. Again this education program needs to provide basic information on which athlete's can base decisions but also focus on the application of this knowledge directly into enhanced performance. This information can ideally be directly linked with a quality physical education program, while some elements can also be incorporated into other parts of a school curriculum. Here, its application to athletics can provide significant benefits for the student, but also help generate interest in the subject concerned.

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Today's young athlete

Any development program must always be set in the context of the athlete. In modern society everyday life is becoming increasingly sedentary, and this trend is increasingly filtering down to our youth (7). Average activity levels are in steady decline, so much so that in many countries schemes are being initiated just to increase activity levels (7). The proliferation of devices with which to fill leisure time such as computer games, together with the reduction in the opportunities for unstructured active recreation has seen a sharp decline in the overall health of our youth, and the increase in related issue such as obesity (11).

In the author's experience, many freshmen lack much of the basic fitness and athleticism of previous generations, and as such are starting out from a lower base of fitness. This trend is exacerbated by the single sport specialization approach in many areas (22). Here, while sport skills may be relatively well developed, fundamental movement patterns can often poorly developed (18), and the levels of conditioning underpinning performance may be lacking. In this case the need for effective preparation time, to redress many of these issues is paramount, and this requires a new model of development to be devised, which builds these elements into a long term model rather than a short term “fix.” In an ideal world, athletic development should be starting prior to high school, but this issue is generally outside the influence of the high school coach. While not be addressed in this paper, this remains a real challenge for optimal youth performance development.

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While little empirical evidence exists on the optimal models for developing athletes through the four years of high school athletics, there are a number of key rationale that suggest that the quadrennial plan provides a more logical model of training organization.

  1. The motor learning rationale.
  2. The accumulated training rationale.
  3. The traditional periodization rationale.
  4. The long term athlete development rationale.
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Many of the key factors required for elite performance are skill related, and need to be subjected to optimal skill development models. An athlete learns a skill, sequentially over time (4), and development plans need to be constructed to optimize skill development. Optimizing skill development at different stages of development requires different approaches to be utilized, with the preferred method depending upon the level of skill of the performer (17). With performance in elements such as movement, and resistance training technique based on the development of good technique, it is vital that these are developed in a way that optimizes learning and enhances ultimate skill expression. Ericsson et al. (12) has shown that the effect of practice on performance is larger than believed possible, and that training must be directed at improving or developing a skill. Thus, goal directed work needs to take time, and where emphasis is always on short term performance, the required time to fully develop the skills in the appropriate skill learning environment will likely be limited. Without the correct learning environment, one in which the individual is encouraged and supported and has the opportunity to learn and practice, optimum performance will never be attained (26).Within a quadrennial model, where much of the aim in the early stages of development will be based on skill development, a more appropriate skill development model can be utilized, and where time can be allocated to skill development and not on short term preparation for competitive performance.

The expression of skill in competitive situations relies on the development of stable schema based motor programs, and these are in turn based on extensive practice (17). Given that many youngsters will enter high school programs without these skills, it is vital that sufficient time is devoted to the development of these stable basic skill patterns. In the initial stages of learning, skill development is maximized by focusing on single task skills, performed in uncompetitive situations using distributed practice and with regular feedback (15,17). This is very different for the optimal development of skills in experienced athletes where a variety of complex drills need to be employed, which are highly sport specific and with infrequent but precise feedback (15-17,21). Moving too quickly through these stages and deploying the inappropriate type of coaching at the wrong time, will hinder skill development (21). If skills are not optimally developed, with stable motor programs in place, then ultimate performance will always be compromised.

A key part of effective skill learning is the construction of effective goals. For effective skill learning performance goals and process goals are preferred to outcome goals. Whereas outcome goals focus on the results of performance and often involve comparison with other people's performance (21), performance and process goals are internally focused. Performance goals focus on self improvement relative to past performance, while process goals emphasize particular aspects of skill execution (21), such as achieving triple extension in weightlifting. While skill development needs to occur throughout all stages of an athlete's development, the early stages of skill development when performance motor programs are being ingrained are crucial in developing effective patterns (21). At these times, performance, and especially process goals are crucial, and need to dominate. Unfortunately in single year plans, aimed at enhancing short term game performance, outcome goals will often dominate, and athletes will often focus on outcomes in training such as reaching the 300lb squat club, rather than the process goals of perfecting squat technique. This is an excellent example of where a short term approach will result in greater performances in the short term, but where ultimate performance can be compromised as technique may not be mastered. Shortcuts taken in skill development to achieve short term outcome goals are a false economy as, unless technique is mastered, performance in the long-term will always be compromised.

An unfortunate aspect of this rationale is that initially high school strength and conditioning coach may have to act in a remedial role. Typical freshmen will have been playing sport for a number of years, yet may not have been through an appropriate physical development program. In this way many movement patterns, etc., may have been improperly developed, and the first part of the high school quadrennial plan may have to be a movement reeducation phase. This emphasizes the need for effective physical development programs to be instigated at a younger age, but this is beyond the scope of this current paper.

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A key to optimizing athletic performance is the need to accumulate quality training over an extended period of time. In establishing the rationale behind the quadrennial plan it is important to identify three broad cycles of training, and the key aims of each.

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Types of training cycles

Traditional models of development work on annual macrocycles, normally corresponding with a given season of play. These are normally divided into mesocycles, of which three types can be identified, namely accumulative, transmutative and realizational (27). Each of these has a specific aim within the macrocycle. Accumulative mesocycles aim to enhance the athlete's potential, via improving basic motor abilities and sports techniques (27). Transmutative mesocycles are utilized to transform the non-specific fitness of the accumulative stage into sport specific fitness while realizational mesocycles aim to optimize performance in competitions (27). Realizational cycles are characterized by a lower volume of conditioning activities, and where used, will always limit the training time that can be allocated to quality training.

Within traditional models, all three mesocycle types are normally employed within each annual macrocycle. While this may benefit performance in the short term, this practice could ultimately hinder long term development via reducing the amount of time spent in accumulative cycles, and thus preventing the athlete building up a firm base of fitness and technique. Without this firm base, ultimate performance potential may be diminished, as the accumulation of potential will be compromised.

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The need for accumulation

Given this, the need for accumulative cycles, emphasizing basic fitness, movement techniques lifting techniques, etc., is more important than ever. Accumulative mesocycles can be thought of as the foundation stones of any physical performance program, in a similar vein to the foundations of a building. Where a builder spends time building a building with firm foundations, the ultimate performance of the building will be maximized, despite the fact that it took longer to build. Where firm foundations are not in place the ultimate performance of the building will always be compromised, despite the fact that in the short term the building was built faster. Accumulative cycles are crucial to ultimately maximize performance, despite the fact that short term results may be compromised. However with single year macrocycle planning, the annual cycling from accumulative through transmutative through to realizational cycles, reduces the time that can be devoted to building the foundations of motor programming and physical development upon which maximal performance will ultimately be built. For example tapering systems for games in the early years will cost athletes hours of training time, time that could be spent building a firm foundation for maximal performance.

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This rationale is similar to the accumulated training rationale, and again focuses on optimizing preparation prior to focusing on peak performance. Most classical periodization models are built around a single year (macrocycle), with preparatory, competitive and transition phases identified (3). The preparatory and competitive phases are then further broken down into two sub-phases each with different tasks. In terms of the preparatory stage, general preparation and specific preparation phases can be identified (3).

If the aims of the preparatory phases are examined, then the rationale behind a quadrennial plan becomes self evident. The main objective of the general preparatory phases is to improve working capacity (3). This work capacity allows the athlete to cope with the physical and psychological training demands that increase throughout the high school career. The stronger and broader the general preparatory training, the higher the level of biomotor abilities the athlete can reach (3). Given this, it seems logical that by increasing the time spent on general preparation, the higher the potential which the athlete can attain. The structure of the quadrennial plan allows for a far greater emphasis on general preparation as the requirement to pass rapidly onto the other phases of classical periodization is removed. Similarly, once athlete development is looked at from the perspective of athlete readiness, then the effectiveness of single year models becomes questionable. For novice athletes, preparatory phases should be as long as possible, and ideally be free from the stress of competition (4) as in doing this, a foundation of physical training and biomotor skill development can be established.

Again, when looking at the aims of the specific preparation phase, the use of the quadrennial plan has significant advantages. Specific training is aimed at furthering the athlete's physical development in the specific requirements of the sport (3). The success of this phase is built upon the foundation of the general phase, with the ultimate success of the phase dependent upon the athlete's physical and psychological readiness, areas that would have been better developed given the length of time devoted to general preparation in the quadrennial plan.

What is clear is that the ultimate potential of each athlete will be affected by the potential accumulated in the preparatory phases. To this end, in the majority of cases freshmen athletes need to spend a great deal of time in the general preparatory stage, where a firm foundation of training can be established. As they move onto sophomore years then a blend of general through to specific development can be emphasized. However the annual plan limits the time spent in preparation by requiring rapid cycling thorough to the competition phases, focusing on addressing short term goals over long term development.

The quadrennial plan removes this disadvantage, and by emphasizing performance over the long term rather than the short term allows for a far greater time to be spent on preparation, and the development of key foundation physical and motor abilities.

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Today, a body of review literature exists outlining the need for a long term athlete development model to underpin all athletic development programs (1,2,22,25,26). Research into optimal long term athletic development suggests that the ultimate success of the athlete is facilitated by effective transition through a number of phases (2,4). The quadrennial plan fits in neatly with the Long Term Athlete Development Model presented by Balyi (2), where within this model, the age ranges of 14-18 are termed the “training to train” phase. Here the emphasis on the development of performance potential which will demonstrate more stability over time, and which has the potential to reach higher levels than with more short term approaches.

The two critical phases of the Training to Train stage in relation to the quadrennial model are the developing potential phase and the developing performance phase (22).

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Developing potential

This is the major emphasis of the freshman and sophomore years. In this phase the aim is to accumulate a sustained period of quality training and practice. This should emphasize the key factors that underpin potential success such as movement quality, and can be seen as a form of general preparation. Here the basis of future performance is laid. In this stage, where often novel movement are being developed (e.g., weightlifting), the quantity of quality practice is crucial, as is the provision of a motivational environment. At this time rather than focus on competitive performance, process goals dominate, with the athlete establishing a basis of movement, lifting technique, general strength and metabolic endurance.

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Developing performance

In this stage (normally the junior and senior year) emphasis can move gradually towards game performance, with the emphasis turning to first specific preparation and then to competitive performance. This will be optimized only if the preceding skills and physical capacity development has been effectively carried out. At this stage the quality of practice is more important than the amount (10) and the key will be to optimize performance in the key rate limiting factors outlined for the sport and position. In this stage the potential performance peak is higher than with the more traditional annual plan as the successful completion of the previous stage provides athletes with the psychomotor and psychobehavioral skills to optimize their performance (1).

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In implementing the program two key areas need to be addressed. While the need to address logistical issues of planning is clear, it is also important to get support from all concerned parties. In this way the process of changing traditional behaviors is critical if the program is to get the support from athletes, coaches and parents to allow it to be successful.

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One of the great challenges of putting a quadrennial plan in place will be changing the attitude and behaviors of all those with vested interests, namely athletes, coaches and parents. This will take a great deal of effort in the short term, and the key elements will be the belief of the strength and conditioning coach in the need for this approach. Only with this belief will the coach demonstrate the enthusiasm required to affect the changes needed to put the system in place.

Armed with this belief, the coach will then need to progressively bring other key players on board so that the system can be developed. Again the methods of changing behavior and affecting change are well beyond the scope of this paper, but a few key elements can be outlined, the key is to work towards a system that is accepted by all, a win/win situation (8).

Crucial to this is to address the key concerns of other parties. There will always be resistance to change (20), and a number of reasons can be identified, such as fear of the unknown, fear of personal loss, fear that the timing maybe wrong, resistance to change because of tradition (20). By first understanding these issues, arguments can be developed which directly address these issues (8). By addressing the key concerns of all parties, and emphasizing the way in which the quadrennial plan actually benefits the main aims of those concerned you can be seen as working with the parties rather than against, as empathy and sincerity are key to any persuasion process (5).

Additionally, these arguments need to be constructed to address one of the key elements of human nature - that in any negotiating situation people are motivated by the thought “what's in it for me” (24). By identifying what the athlete's coaches and parents are after (in many cases, winning) the case for this approach can be put forward in terms of its effect on these issues. In this way, an education program will be fundamental to the process of implementing the program, and this should be continual, taking every opportunity to emphasize the benefits, constantly framing this with the thought “what's in it for you”(24) focusing on the benefits to be gained by the concerned parties.

Many elements of the quadrennial plan can be implemented subtly, such as the change from performance to process goals, a greater time spent on technique work. Unless all parties are totally committed to the change, a gradual implementation of the program is likely to be more successful than a dramatic change. In this way, a gradual move can be implemented which, overtime, takes the program from a short term approach to a long-term quadrennial plan.

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The key to a successful quadrennial plan is to start with the end in mind and then to work back. By identifying the type of athlete the program is looking to build, key performance elements can then be identified which, when pieced together, lead to the type of athlete in question. These elements can then be broken down into component parts, and each part can then be planned to optimize its development.

In this way, a quadrennial plan needs to be built for each sport, and often for positions within each sport. While the initial stages of the quadrennial plans may look similar, key differences can be built, in which facilitate the appropriate development pathway. For this reason the generalized plans outlined within this paper can be adjusted to accommodate each sport and each positional difference. For example, a football quadrennial plan will need a far greater emphasis on hypertrophy than for basketball. Also, within this football model, offensive linemen plans will differ from defensive backs in term of the movement emphasis and the hypertrophy emphasis.

Given that these differences will need to be accounted for, the general model outlined below (Figure 1) can be used as a basis for development. As highlighted earlier, the success of any quadrennial plan can be thought of as based on a similar basis to the construction of an effective building. To emphasize this, the quadrennial plan is visually depicted as a pyramid, with the ultimate height and stability of the pyramid based upon the quality of the foundation.

Figure 1

Figure 1

Each year within the quadrennial cycle represents a level on the pyramid, and as the athlete moves up the pyramid there is a move from general, technique based training through to highly specific performance based training.

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Year one (freshman) - accumulative cycle 1 - foundation

The aim here is general preparation. Initially this should involve a comprehensive movement, strength and exercise technique screening, whereby general abilities, along with any key limitations within each athlete are identified. Addressing any key issues, including remedial work to correct poor movement patterns, or strength deficits, etc., needs to be a major focus of the first year, as this will greatly enhance future potential. The cycle should also work to address key skill based aspects of performance including building excellent movement (speed and agility) technique and quality technique in the key strength exercises (including weightlifting). Movement skills should focus on the generic initiation, transition and actualization movements common to sports (16,17). Additionally, a high level of pillar strength, the torso and associated elements that forms the foundation of all movements (23), and overall work capacity should be developed in this stage. Much of the work in this phase can be carried out in multisport, environments, emphasizing the general nature of preparation.

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Year two (sophomore) - accumulative cycle 2 - development

This is similarly a preparatory phase but with a gradual transition from general to specific preparation as it progresses. This should build on the initial work carried out in the freshman year, and is predominantly a strength and movement phase. Here high levels of strength are developed, with the degree of emphasis on hypertrophy depending upon the sport and playing position. General strength exercises will predominate such as squats, Romanian deadlifts, deadlifts, pressing and pulling movements, together with the continued development of the weightlifting technique so that these can be optimized in subsequent years. Movement training will involve developing the key movement combinations found in sports and will gradually move from closed to open in nature. Work capacity and endurance will be developed according to the requirements of the sport and individual.

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Year three (junior) - transmutative cycle - performance

This is the first element of the developing performance part of the quadrennial model, and is reflected by a move from general to specific preparation, whereby the general condition developed in the previous two years starts to be transmutated into sport specific fitness. Within this phase the key rate limiting factors for sports performance are the major emphasis, with the emphasis in most sports of maximizing strength and using this as the basis of power expression. While weightlifting will be a key part of the program these will be supplemented by multi-planar, and sport specific movements including aspects such as rotational strength, etc., where appropriate. Movement training becomes very sport-specific, reflecting the need to link the key movement patterns and combinations with the key visual and auditory stimuli experienced in the specific sport. Peaking cycles will begin to be used, and there will be a gradual move towards more traditional periodization systems, but without compromising training time to such a degree.

The success of this phase will be enhanced by the extensive work carried out in the previous phases whereby movement limitations will have been addressed and a high level of balanced strength and exercise technique present.

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Year four (senior) - realizational cycle - peak

This year moves towards a typical periodization structure with the overall aim being to maximize performance in competition. While being called a realizational cycle, the realizational element relates to the overall aim of the year and does not necessarily reflect the divisions of loads during the year, with the actual degree of tapering depending on game schedules, etc. Emphasis will be on both specific preparation and competition cycles, and will involve both transmutational and realizational mesocycles. The overall effectiveness of this year will be enhanced by the extensive preparation carried out in the earlier cycles.

Figure 2 summarizes the aims of each stage.



Within this broad pyramid structure, each fitness element identified within the high performance model, will have its own performance development pyramid. Figure 3 outlines a movement training quadrennial plan for soccer. These individual pyramids for each fitness element allow for greater detail to be added to the general plan, and specific goals and methods devised for each element. Within these plans there will be differences in individual development rates, and this should be catered for via selective drills/exercises for individuals or small groups.



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Competition provides the medium by which athletes are judged, and it is vital that athletes are prepared appropriately for competition. Through the quadrennial plan, athletes should increase the number of competitions progressively, so that by the end of the plan they are competing on a frequent basis. However the focus of the competitions should change over time, as too much emphasis on competition rather than training can inhibit individual athlete development (21). Initially the competitions should be framed in terms key objectives that focus on developing specific skills, tactics and motor abilities, without overemphasizing winning (4). As the plan progresses, winning will become a more clear aim, but this will be better achieved through the preparatory phases of the quadrennial plan, with the athletes hopefully fully prepared for the physiological, psychological and emotional requirements of high level competition.

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With a quadrennial approach, a structured development system can be put in place, which theoretically maximizes the long term development of the athlete. Rather than try to cycle through accumulative, transmutational and realization cycles annually, which limits the time spent in accumulative cycles, the quadrennial plan devotes a greater time to accumulation. Additionally, the accumulation can be optimally distributed over a far longer period of time, again optimizing its effectiveness. In quadrennial models the time an athlete spends in quality basic training increases, increasing the amount of technical practice and assisting in the development of stable motor patterns. In this way a more effective performance base is laid, with a far greater time spent on the accumulation of potential. In this way athletes are optimally prepared for a higher level of performance, and one which can be maintained over a more productive career.▪

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quadrennial; planning; long-term; high school

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