Research > Syntheses > Developing Climbing Talent > “Moving Stages”

Note: this is #6 of 8 different write-ups on LTAD available at my website. For the overview, click here.

Let’s catch you up: this is one part of an overview of research into athletic talent. This research is usually referred to as Long Term Athlete Development (LTAD), Talent Identification (TID), or Talent Development (TDE) research. It has implications for everything from “who’s got it” to “will I reach my potential if I didn’t start when I was 4” to the “secret sauce”. So let’s talk about a sub-part to the frameworks — how do youth move between the stages of these frameworks.


The frameworks (see here for a snapshot) and the accompanying research they are built off appear to value the following points:

  • avoiding physical or psychosocial burn-out / loss of motivation / withdrawal from sports keeps a larger pool of athletes from which to choose from[i];
  • reducing injury and/or risk factors is desirable for the same reason as above[ii][iii]
  • transitioning from youth-to-adult performance is desirable.  As a result, stages are basically designed to “wean” youth into athletic performance.  While certain assessments may help us learn when a youth athlete should move between stages:
    • This isn’t as simple as, say, the “belt system” in Karate, with discrete levels.
      • Stages are partially performance requirements for skills athletes can work toward improving, BUT;
      • Stages cannot necessarily be “mastered.”
  • Taking account of different athletes and their different pathways to high-end performance;
    • Not everyone will start at the first stage, or;
    • Take the same path (e.g. multi- vs. single-sport, age, club size, coaching, etc.) 
  • Using alternative indicators of “readiness” (see psychological readiness and skeletal maturation) beside performance maybe desirable.
Image by Jennie Jariel

Here are three potential options for gauging movement between stages:

1.     Assessing Psychological Readiness

  • Coaches can look for a variety of indicators.  These indicators could be anything from having a history of time in previous stages, experience in multiple sports, experience with non-climbing specific athletic movement, a willingness to learn, a social support network, and others.
  • Coaches can also be on the lookout for “pressure points” such as a desire to move to a new stage only to win.

2.     Giving kids “tasters” of different age groups.

  • Stages overlap chronologically due to children developing at different rates.  Therefore:
  • One area we’ll be exploring is temporary “tasters” of different stages – rather than permanent changes.  We hope this will give children the opportunity to explore and participate in different stages for brief periods while giving coaches more insight into their readiness.

3.     Use a quantitative method to assess “maturation.”

  • There are multiple ways of assessing growth beyond chronological age, including but not limited to assessing Peak Height velocity (PHV), Skeletal Age (SA), and Maturation Level (e.g. Khamis-Roche method, or percent of likely adult height).

Acknowledgment: I’m indebted to Dr. Russell Martindale, Associate Professor at Edinburgh Napier University, Dr. Phillip Watts, Professor Emeritus of Sports and Exercise Science (Retired) at Northern Michigan University, and Dr. Shannon Siegel, Co-Chair of the Department of Kinesiology at the University of San Francisco, for their review of different sections of this write-up.  They were very generous with their time, advice, and recommendations.  They are not responsible for any mistakes, omissions, or poor arguments on my part! 

[i] The following entities have provided position papers on using an LTAD to avoid injury and/or burn-out: The National Strength and Conditioning Association; American Medical Society for Sports Medicine, American Orthopaedic Society for Sports Medicine, and the National athletic trainers’ association.

[ii] For an interesting blog post on youth specialization, injury, and burn-out, check out this link to a blog post at sent to me by my friend Dr. Natasha Barnes.  For a specific paper on injuries, check out Sport Specialization and Risk of Overuse Injuries: A Systematic Review with Meta-analysis” by Bell DR (2018).  For a specific paper on burn-out and injuries, see Overuse injuries and burnout in youth sports: a position statement from the American Medical Society for Sports Medicine, by DiFiori et al. (2013). 

[iii] AOSSM Early Sport Specialization Consensus Statement by LaPrade et al. (2016)