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We have already introduced the most important principles of creating a rational training plan. Now we will focus more on the principles of development of your descendants or charges from early childhood. 

We can distinguish in principle two models in training children and youth: early specialization and late specialization. The general theory of sports training, which aims to prevent overloading and the resulting acute and chronic health complications in girls, speaks in favour of the late specialization. During the 11th Symposium of Sports Medicine (Dříteč, 30 March 2023), Jiří Dostál gave a lecture in which he drew attention to the ineffectiveness of early selection of talents across various sports disciplines. The winners of youth competitions usually did not rank among the top performers in adulthood. As a rule, however, these were fitness-based sports such as athletics, cross-country skiing or rowing. Excellent young athletes faced burnout, loss of interest and chronic fatigue in adulthood. On the other hand, sports determined mainly by a high level of technique (i.e. specific coordination or a high level of skills) actually require a significant amount of specific activity in youth. An example is canoe slalom, in which it is true that what you do not learn in your youth will be difficult to find when you are old. However, the emphasis should be on technique, playfulness, the development of a feeling for the water and specific activity should always be complemented by versatile physical activity. 

Late specialization is characterized by 4 stages of sports development and is interchangeable with the internationally recognized LTAD (long-term athlete development) model. We can define 4 stages for each athlete: the introductory stage, the basic training stage, the specialized training stage and the top stage. 

The main task of the introductory stage (children aged 6–10 years) is to create a positive relationship between children and physical activities. In general, childhood is a key period for the acquisition of fundamental movement prerequisites and skills. Activities should include running, jumping, throwing, catching, balance exercises, various climbs, overcoming obstacles, etc. All of this forms a general movement basis knows as movement literacy which is a key prerequisite for the successful fulfilment of the subsequent stages of development, top performance in adulthood and a positive lifelong relationship to movement as such. A non-performance-oriented, experience-oriented approach is suitable for young children. Unfortunately, we too often see that the negative feedback from adults spoils movement for even young children and this problem is amplified during puberty when adolescents are increasingly sensitive to adult assessment. It is appropriate to praise and encourage children, not to assess or judge them. Girls aged 6–10 can already paddle and so they do. But beware of two things: (1) adequate equipment and (2) pushing girls into situations they consider dangerous. Fear of water is natural for them and patience is appropriate from the educational point of view. Each child is individual and needs a different amount of time. 

The nomadic life of canoe slalom athletes begins during the basic stage (10–14 years of age) – increased demands on time spent on the water and by the water begin to take their toll. Daily training, weekend travel after races and holidays spent at camps are the reality for the ambitious ones. Children come into contact with more difficult water courses for the first time. The perfect handling of the Eskimo roll can be considered crucial, which significantly reduces the fear of wild water in children. Suitable complementary sports are those that are a natural fitness burden for the body. Examples are swimming, climbing on climbing walls, cross-country skiing, sports games. It can be said that there are only minimal differences between boys and girls until the onset of puberty (around 12 years of age). It is only with puberty and the hormonal changes associated with it that the scissors of the body’s motor performance are fundamentally opened. It is advisable for charges at this age to try all possible disciplines of canoeing and boat categories. 

The specialized stage (15–19 years) is reminiscent of sports training of top athletes. The charges specialize in achieving a high level of performance in one particular discipline and category. The trainings are specifically focused (e.g. on the development of strength skills, endurance, technique, etc.). In addition to regular (basically daily, often multi-phase) training on the water, the charges should regularly devote themselves to the development of strength (weight training with own weight, balance aids and dumbbells) and endurance (running training). Swimming, wall climbing, gymnastics and yoga remain suitable complementary sports. Successful junior representatives train approximately 12–15 hours a week, of which 8–10 hours are on the water. The long-term problem of this stage is the underestimation of compensation and regeneration. The high volume of specific unilateral activity must be compensated through non-specific activity, compensatory physiotherapeutic exercises and non-specific physical activity (running, swimming). 

At the stage of top training (20 years or more), successful athletes increase not only the training itself, but all areas affecting performance – in regeneration, nutrition, supplementation. The smallest details are often solved and advanced technological solutions (monitoring of sleep quality, fatigue through heart rate variability, etc.) are often used in the preparation. All this to maximize performance in key races of the season. 

The stages are in correlation with the LTAD concept which was first introduced by sports scientist and coach Istvan Balyi in Canada in the 1990s. This concept is widely accepted as the best practice for the development of the athlete from early childhood to adulthood and is adopted by the overwhelming majority of sports disciplines around the world.


Common mistakes in fitness training of girls 

  • A common misconception is that long-term endurance makes no sense for canoeists, as performance takes less than 120 seconds. The opposite is true. A high level of long-term general endurance is important for training, especially training specific short-term and speed endurance. Without a high level of general endurance (built through longer moderate-intensity activities), 10–15 hours of intensive training per week cannot be mastered in the long term. In addition, longer low-intensity activities are a great means of regeneration. Everyday walking, alpine hiking, cycling in the aerobic zone of energy coverage are great physical activities for lactate metabolism, regeneration of strength, development of aerobic capacity and mental relaxation. 
  • Another common mistake is that girls should not work out. Yes, no weightlifting is necessary in girls up to 15 years of age. It is much better to choose a coordination developing natural weight training and increasing muscle fitness through various sports disciplines. Obstacle courses offering various climbs, pulls, grips, etc. are suitable in the youngest girls. It is advisable to train with their own weight in older girls (various pull-ups, press-ups, arm-supports, rests, climbs, etc.). However, we should not be afraid of the dumbbells mentioned from the age of 15; after mastering the good technique of basic exercises, it is even possible to develop maximum strength. Insufficient weight training at a young age is the most common cause of later complications with the shoulder joints and the spine. Weight training is an absolutely indispensable part of the training of all canoeists and should be done from childhood for about 2–4 hours a week all year round
  • Mistake 3 is related to Mistakes 1 and 2 and says that strength and general endurance is only a matter of winter preparation. The opposite is true! Endurance activities of moderate intensity and longer duration perfectly compensate for the high volume of specific load in spring and summer. Run, bike or skate all year round! Do aerobic activities at least 3 times a week, for at least 30 minutes. Swimming is also suitable but beware of overloading the upper limbs – it is necessary to master good technique and swim in moderate intensity. 
  • Be careful in terms of stretching! Functional physiological mobility and flexibility are key in canoeing. Be aware of the fact that excessive (non-physiological) mobility can cause health complications. If you are one of the girls who are naturally very mobile, do some stretching only shortly after training and pay even more attention to proper weight training.

 Written by Jan Busta

The article can also be downloaded here: How to prepare right before the race .pdf

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