Long-term Athlete Development

Rowden August 2012

LTAD is basically a model which looks at an in-depth and long-term approach to maximising the potential of an individual and helping him/her to tailor the developmental program to suit the stages of physical and mental growth. It is also intended to encourage and motivate the athlete to be involved lifelong in his/her sport. The model is split into a number of stages taking the child from simple, generic movements to more complex, sport specific skills and building a pathway.

So LTAD is a sports framework that is based on human growth and development. It is about adopting an athlete-centred approach to development. There are critical periods in the life of a young person at which time the effects of training can be maximised. Young people should in fact be exposed to specific types of training during periods of rapid growth and the type of training should change with the pattern of growth.

For most sports a five stage framework can be utilised:
• FUNdamental – basic movement literacy, boys 6 – 9, girls 5 -- 8
• Skills – building technique, boys 9 – 12, girls 8 -- 11
• Training to train – building the engine, boys 12 – 16, girls 11 -- 15
• Training to compete – optimising the engine, boys 16 – 18, girls 15 -- 17
• Training to win – maximising the engine, boys 18+, girls 17+

In the final stage of athletic preparation the emphasis will be on specialisation and performance enhancement. All the basics will be fully established and the focus shifts totally to the optimisation of performance. Athletes will be trained to peak for specific competitions and major events. Therefore all aspects of training will be individualised and tailored not only to the athlete but to the specific event. There will be either double, triple or multiple periodisation, depending on the events being trained for. Training even at this advanced stage will continue to develop strength, core body strength and maintain suppleness.

At all times it should be appreciated that LTAD is an approach to athlete development that puts the athlete, rather than the system, at its centre. It can provide a means of developing an integrated, systematic methodology which will ensure that all athletes are able to achieve their full potential and help foster long-term involvement. The principle need in sport is to identify and address the inconsistencies in how young players are developed and to encourage the widespread adoption of agreed good practices. There is also a clear need to address the lack of training culture in sport in many countries in Europe. Unfortunately at the moment many players who achieve international recognition do so in spite of the system rather than because of it – this has to change. Other talented players are unable to access the support and coaching required to enable them reach their full potential and are lost to the sport at the higher levels.

Currently many young sports persons undertake a large amount of training and competition but is this always in the right direction? Often there is rarely a single plan for their sporting development and conflicts and overplaying can easily arise without the appropriate guidance. For this reason efforts should be made to manage the individual player’s sporting, academic and social commitments in order to achieve balance. This is particularly important for talented players who may be accessing coaching via a number of differing sources. There must be one overall controlling and directing figure in whom the athlete has complete trust and to whom the athlete can refer at any time.

National Coaches often seem to forget that most of the player’s development is in his/her own club and not on a few training camps. Any National Coach, who does not control the player’s development, does not have control over all the aspects that go into creating success and doesn’t have the input time with the players, cannot hope to produce world-class performers. Winning against other countries and in major events will therefore be, not because of the system, but in spite of the system. Also however if groups work against the system can they succeed? As Jacques de Molay, Grand Master of the Templars stated around 700 years ago: ‘Success will only be achieved if everyone works together. Small groups without uniformity of purpose or the agreement of a clearly defined target will fail’.

It is necessary too that the controlling and directing figure, whoever this may be, has the appropriate in-depth experience in the development of a variety of styles and also the ability and knowledge to set the right standards during the early stages of development. If the critical periods in the life of a young person, at which time the effects of training can be maximised, are not utilised to the full, then this can significantly reduce the performer’s chances of ever reaching full potential.

We must talent-spot and select a small number of players in the expectation that almost all will succeed: find the talent, polish it and turn it into gold. The old methods of mass participation and mass failure must be consigned to the scrapheap. If the overall system does not allow or cater for the athlete-centred approach then the likelihood of producing high-level performers, who will achieve their maximum, will be severely limited or will rarely if ever happen.

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