Optimal development of youth athletes towards elite athletic performance: how to coach their motivation, plan training exercise and pace the race.
Elite athletic athletes have invested many years in training and competition to reach the elite level. One very important factor on the road to elite performance is the decision-making process regarding the regulation of effort over time, termed as pacing behaviour. The regulation of effort is vital for optimal athletic performance during a single race and over a longer period of time (e.g. a competitive season) as an inadequate regulation could result in a higher risk of injuries, overtraining and drop-out. Despite this, there is limited knowledge on how young athletes learn and develop the abilities related to pacing. Pacing behaviour of athletes develops from childhood throughout adolescence and is thought to be closely connected to physical maturation, the development of pre-frontal cortical related (meta-) cognitive functions, as well as the gathering of experience with exercise tasks. The motivation of an athlete can critically influence how an athlete paces a single race, but also how they distribute their effort over a longer period of time. Coaches are advised to closely monitor the development of pacing behaviour during adolescence (e.g., by gathering split times, and related physiological measurement, during training and competition), as well as the underlying factors including physical maturation, (meta-) cognitive development and the motivation of young athletes. Furthermore, pacing behaviour development could be aided by providing training in which the task, individual, and environment are manipulated. Hereby, presenting athletes with the opportunity to gain experience in situations which closely resemble the perceptual-motor conditions of upcoming competitions.