The LTAD Model

Rowden March 2019

There are according to sports scientists, critical periods in an athlete’s career when the effects of training can be optimised and LTAD focuses on these key moments in order to maximise the individual’s development.

Furthermore the model provides sports organisations and coaches with a framework in order to plan and structure the delivery of training in a manner that ensures it fulfils the specific needs of each athlete.

The concept of LTAD is based largely on the work of Istvan Balyi, according to whom sports can be classified as either early specialisation (Gymnastics, Table Tennis) or late specialisation (Track and Field, Team Sports). Early specialisation sports commonly require a four phase model while late specialisation usually needs six phases. An important point to note about the models is that the stages are not necessarily based on age in that research has shown that chronological age is not a good indicator on which to base athletic development models for athletes between the age of 10 to 16 as between these ages there can be a wide variation in the physical, cognitive and emotional development of the child.

Early Specialisation Model

Phase 1—Training to Train

This phase is appropriate for boys between 11 and 15 and girls aged 9 to 14. The main objective should be the overall development of the athlete’s physical capabilities (focus on aerobic conditioning) and fundamental movement skills. The key points of this phase are:

• Further develop speed and sport-specific skills, develop the aerobic base after the onset of PHV
• Learn correct exercising techniques
• Develop knowledge of how to stretch and when, how to optimise nutrition and hydration, mental preparation, how and when to taper and peak
• Establish pre-competition, competition and post-competition techniques
• The strength training window for boys begins 12 to 18 months after PHV
• Special emphasis is also required for flexibility training due to the sudden growth of bones, tendons, ligaments and muscles
• A 60% training to 40% competition ratio is recommended

Coaching specialists should also assess training prior to this phase and utilise the information gathered to ensure any windows of opportunity which have not previously been optimised are done so here. At this stage we would also normally establish whether the athlete is performance or participation based as this will determine the level of commitment and input from both the athlete and the coach. Conversations about future direction and action plans can then be initiated.

Phase 2 – Training to Compete

This phase is appropriate for boys aged 16 to 18 and girls of 15 to 17. The main objective should be to optimise fitness preparation, sport/event specific skills and performance. The key points of this phase are:

• 50% of available time is devoted to the development of technical and tactical skills and fitness improvement
• 50% of available time is devoted to competition and competition-specific training
• Learn to perform these sport specific skills under a variety of competitive conditions during training
• Special emphasis is placed on optimum preparation by modelling training and competition
• Fitness programs, recovery programs, psychological preparation and technical development are now individually tailored to the athlete’s needs
• Double and multiple periodisation is the optimal framework of preparation

Here the training becomes very specific to the individual athlete and therefore requires good communication between coach and athlete – the coach-athlete relationship has therefore developed into one of mutual respect as trust and rapport has been developed. It is not uncommon to experience transition at this stage as schooling structure can change and so too the social environment as the athlete becomes more independent both in and out of sport. The balance of power and responsibility often shifts at this stage and therefore it is critical that it is managed appropriately.

Phase 3 – Training to Win

This phase is appropriate for boys aged 18+ and girls 17+. The main objective should be to maximise fitness preparation and sport/event specific skills as well as performance. The key points of this stage are:

• All of the athlete’s physical, technical, tactical, mental, personal and lifestyle capacities are now fully established and the focus of training has shifted to the maximisation of performance and peaking for major events.
• Training is characterised by high intensity and relatively high volume with appropriate breaks to prevent over training
• Training to competition ratio in this phase is 25:75, with the competition percentage including competition-specific training activities.

Phase 4 – Retirement and Retainment
The main objective should be to retain athletes in coaching, officiating, sport administration etc.

Overall Notes on LTAD

Many NGB’s have adapted the LTAD model to suit the specific demands of their sport and coaches base their practices around the model. This must be done however in a timely and appropriate manner. The model is one which encourages long term commitment to sport and recognises that athletes will pass through a number of stages in their development. One of the most important factors is the level of emotional intelligence of the athlete.

This is the capacity or ability of the athlete to recognise, interpret and regulate their thoughts and feelings and to therefore cope under pressure. This is a skill which can be developed and managed and thus needs careful consideration as it allows consideration of the athlete’s social, practical and personal evolution rather than focusing just on their chronological age.

At some point in an athlete’s career we see a transition as he/she clearly establishes him/herself as a PERFORMANCE athlete. This is a common and usual part of the athlete’s development, but it’s important to note that this can cause organisational stress and needs careful management.

When working with athletes at a younger age one should not expect coaches to explain the purpose and reasoning behind every aspect of the training. As however the athlete matures and becomes more emotionally intelligent he/she becomes more independent, self-reliant and regulatory and I have always found it useful to have a more two way process, where the thoughts and ideas of the player are aired more fully.

Every athlete is different but windows of opportunity should be carefully addressed for each individual. With increased emotional intelligence comes the need for lifestyle choices, relaxation and focusing, pre-competition, competition and post-competition routines, as well as nutritional and life organisational requirements.

Also all coaches must bear in mind that they will encounter numerous exceptions to the above age categories. Some children may have a chronological age of say 10, a mental/emotional age of 15 and a technical/tactical age of 17, in which case advancement through the various phases will be much quicker.