Athletes - ACA

Sport Development


Successful athletes learn, develop, and achieve physical, mental, and emotional fulfillment in the sport.

The recommendations below are designed to help athletes achieve their goals and maximize their potential in paddlesports.  Please also see the many additional important resources, including Safe Sport training, on our Athlete Resources page.

  1. Seek to develop physical literacy and sport skills every day. Use multi-sport activities and cross-training to help build physical, mental, and emotional capabilities, and achieve overall success and fulfillment. 
  2. Focus more on paddling proficiency and skill development than on competition results and performance outcomes at the early stages of sport development. 
  3. Paddle with friends, not just in training. Try other sports to stay active and establish creativity outside of structured training. 
  4. Listen to your body and understand that rest and recovery are part of the sports development process. 
  5. Set goals and gather feedback from coaches to help achieve those goals. Stay active year-round and use sport as an outlet for physical activity and exercise. 

Youth (6-12)

Although many skills are transferable between sports, the first steps to fulfillment in paddlesports at a young age or when first introduced to the sport are discoverylearning, and play. Allow plenty of time for these three critical steps.  

The discovery of crucial concepts and motor skills of the sport is essential for development and growth. The early stage of development requires coaching that promotes fun and enjoyment through discovery and exploration.  

Young athletes need to learn basic rules and sport techniques, and sample multiple sports, including paddlesports, through unstructured play and socializing with other children. They need to develop motor skills that transfer from sport to sport.  

Successful coaches encourage play and cultivate a passion for sport and an active lifestyle. Emphasis on skill development, sports education, and practice should be placed over competition. Coaches need to ensure that every athlete has an equal chance to practice, play, and compete. Coaches also need to teach athletes and parents how to use size and age-appropriate equipment. 

Older Youth (ages 10-16)

The development process continues with the development and challenge stage after an athlete has engaged in a sport and wants to explore more organized training options. During this stage, the focus is on refining the skills needed to succeed in the sport through challenges, such as fun competitions and regular participation in club practice. 

Athlete’s readiness and intrinsic motivation determine preferences and the choice to pursue the next level in the sport or not. This stage may begin earlier for some athletes who are quick to understand the sport rules and techniques and develop physically and mentally. Athletes build core movement fundamentals, increasing requirements for speed, agility, balance, endurance, strength, and coordination. To sustain motor and physical development, they should continue to participate in multiple sports. Successful athletes also grow interpersonal skills, teamwork, communication skills and can adapt to the growing challenges of paddlesports.  

Coaches understand the impact on performance due to different children’s maturation rates. They identify athletes’ strengths and areas of improvement, emphasizing proper movement mechanics. Successful coaches develop structured training programs, yet they continue to emphasize fun and socialization to encourage athlete participation and avoid burnout. Whenever possible, they organize fun competitions to provide challenge and motivation to athletes. They balance age-appropriate practice time vs. racing time to enhance skill development. 

Junior Athletes (ages 13-18)

At this stage, athletes train and compete in a club program that matches their interests, goals, and developmental needs. Competitions become clearly defined with potential for new experiences and a team selection. As athletes start to grasp the commitment necessary for progression in paddlesports and the skill sets needed to excel at the next competitive level, maximizing potential becomes an option. Increased sport-specific training and technical, tactical, physical, and psycho-social development become increasingly more critical. Athletes develop more fully when recreation and multi-sport play continues as a cross-training commitment. 

Elite Athletes

High school-age athletes face the choice to either focus on sport for high performance and increased competition, or to continue to paddle for fun and the social aspects of the sport. Athletes need to choose the pathway that best represents their interests and abilities. Early childhood or club experiences, dedication to training, growth spurts, and other factors affect an athlete’s path and potential sports career.  

During this stage, athletes fully develop and commit to the sport, understand its benefits, and enjoy it. Fun and socialization remain critical, although the definition of fun depends on the athlete and changes with the commitment level. Those athletes that excel at this stage are dedicated to maximizing athletic potential, commit to an ongoing training program, and focus on a single sport during the season.  

Coaches choose competitions commensurate with an athlete’s skill level and appropriate levels outside their comfort zone. Successful athletes compete and perform well in elite national and international competitions.