Reaching Peak Performance in Late Adolescence

Depending on the individual, late adolescence is usually less dramatic than puberty, but still a very important period of growth in terms of the maturing process.

For some sports, such as these, this is the time for reaching close to peak performance:

  • gymnastics
  • swimming
  • diving
  • figure skating
  • soccer
  • lacrosse
  • ballet and other dance forms

For other sports, like these, this is the period of reaching elite level workloads and the first significant results:

  • track & field
  • martial arts
  • rowing
  • volleyball
  • tennis
  • water polo
  • weight lifting

During this period, athletes build up their volume of work and the number of events they take part in. By the end of this period, depending on the sport, athletes should be able to reach 85-100% of the average work volume of an elite athlete in their sport.

Even though this is the stage of reaching elite levels of work and performance, the individual assessment of body growth consolidation and response to increasing load has to be very carefully observed.

From my coaching experience, I think that most male athletes in this age group have a particularly hard time adapting to the new levels of work load required due to their slower growth process. Some sports have rightly created special events in this category, including international championships competitions, to fill the gap between junior level and elite competition. This is a great way of giving young pre-elite athletes a chance to make this giant step of increased workloads and higher levels of competitions.

It is important for coaches to understand that athletes in this stage are still growing and, in most cases, are not yet fully developed, mature athletes. So, when designing training programs, they should leave room for the future and not rush the training process.

Watching the speed of recovery between workouts and after maximum loads and competitions, along with systematic physical and physiological testing, should provide enough information about the effectiveness of the process and the athlete’s speed of development to allow coaches to make good decisions about training and competitions.

A cautious approach is very important in sports of long duration where the peak of body efficiency comes after this period and for some athletes not until they are well into their thirties.

These sports include:

  • road cycling
  • long distance running
  • triathlon
  • cross country skiing
  • modern pentathlon

On the other hand, in sports based on speed, strength, or complex coordination, athletes must take advantage of this sensitive period where these abilities reach or are very close to the their highest level. Even in the sports where these functions are only supplemental or supportive, athletes should take advantage of this sensitive period and develop them the maximum level needed for their sport. That way, in the future, rebuilding to previous levels will be easier and allow more time for specialized conversion to sport specific requirement of speed, power, muscular endurance, anaerobic endurance and other dominant abilities.