As is the case in all sports, numerous factors must be taken into consideration if an athlete’s potential is to be fully realized. Specific fitness related elements need to be developed at the appropriate chronological and developmental ages. The timelines for the introduction of these biomotor components is well understood since the development of the two key systems in the body that need to be considered are both well defined in related literature. The nervous system is about 80-90 percent developed by the age of 5 while the hormonal system significantly lags behind by about 10-12 years before reaching the same 90% level of development. This discrepancy dictates different introduction times for the various training elements based on the body’s ability to respond positively to the training demands.
The diagram above, composed by Dr. L.E. Blake and adapted from the book Fetus Into Man by famous British pediatrician J. M. Tanner , emphasizes the significant differences in the development patterns of both the nervous and hormonal systems. It is important to note that neither system develops linearly. Athletes are about 20 years of age before all systems reach maturity.
The bar graph above, also composed by Dr. L. E. Blake, recommends various introduction times for different biomotor abilities. These various biomotor abilities all play a role in the development of young curling athletes:
- These skills come into play in such critical areas as balance and the integration and sequencing of the complex set of movements required for the delivery of a stone.
- Creative non sport specific games emphasizing these skills are beneficial.
- Endurance (aerobic)
- With multi-game days and multi-day events common place in the sport, athletes having the ability to recover will be at a distinct advantage;
- Endurance training will also impact body shape positively;
- Athletes will have heart rates return to more manageable levels faster after end to end sweeps.
- Flexibility will allow athletes to assume the biomechanically correct positions;
- Flexibility will also increase range of motion around specific joints reducing the chances of injury and increasing longevity in the sport.
- Strength-Endurance (anaerobic lactate capacity)
- Plays a significant role in all aspects of recoveries athletes require during and between games;
- The ability to generate considerable muscularly generated force to increase broom head pressure.
- Speed-Endurance (anaerobic lactate power)
- Tolerance to lactate built up by less efficient anaerobic energy production during end to end sweeps is increased as the body’s natural buffers will increase in response to the stress of this type of training thereby helping to maintain blood pH near 7.0 or neutral;
- The ability to produce and maintain for up to 30 seconds high levels of anaerobic lactate energy production to fuel maximum effort end-to-end sweeps (a key for draws that are light out of the hand);
- Development of the most efficient motor unit pathways to enable the nervous system to initiate the highest possible sweeping frequency
- Speed-Strength-Power (alactic power).
- The ability to generate high levels frequency, and force in a minimum amount of time using energy sources primarily stored in the muscle tissues for immediate use (important for key sweeping required later along the running path of the stone perhaps to delay a break point or to bury a rock once it has passed the guard).
The inappropriate introduction of training modalities before an athlete has developed the required body systems represents a non productive investment of training time and distracts from the development of skills that are both essential and appropriate at that specific age. The athlete’s personal experience would tend to be negative as they are being asked to perform tasks they are physically not ready to do. The probable consequences are predictable – full potential may never be attained and, in a worst case scenario, early retirement from competitive curling may result.
Coaches of all sports need to consider the long range development of the athletes in their care. All too often the coaches of the youngest athletes, who are in those critical developmentally formative years, are the least trained coaches and this leads to poor programming as there is a lack of understanding of the training priorities that are specific to young athletes. An overview of guidelines for age-appropriate training in curling can be found in the Long-term Athlete Development (LTAD) plan developed by the Canadian Curling Association. It is incumbent on all curling clubs to make every effort to ensure that the coaches involved in the early development programs such as Little Rocks programs are highly trained in such areas as fundamental skill development. A well-trained head coach overseeing all aspects of athlete development from sport introduction to adulthood could ensure that a reasonable long-term development model is in place and that all elements of the program are coordinated and complimentary of each other.
 J. M. Tanner (1978, revised 1990). Fetus Into Man. Harvard University Press, ISBN 978-0674306929.