What Is The LTAD Framwork
"Long Term Athlete Development"
What is the LTAD?
The Long-Term Athlete Development (LTAD) model is a framework that strategizes training, competition, and recovery depending on the participant's stage in their athletic development.
Why is LTAD important?
The LTAD model was created to help athletes understand their full potential and improve the quality of sports programs. Through planned and progressive steps, participants of all ages can expand their minds to improve their physical performance.
One of the most important outcomes of the LTAD model is the focus on gradual improvement to develop long-term success. Rather than prioritize short-term gains, athletes who focus on development over time are more likely to reach their full potential.
The LTAD model
The LTAD model is commonly broken down into 5 different phases based on the chronological age of the athlete.
Fundamentals (male 6-9, female 6-8 years)
The objective of this phase is to teach the athlete the fundamental movement skills (run, jump, squat, crawl, throw, catch, strike) and the ABCs (agility, balance, coordination, speed) of athleticism in a fun and enjoyable manner. Strength training is introduced during this phase, focusing on the mastery of bodyweight movements and the inclusion of medicine ball exercises when this has been achieved. If athletes have a preferred sport, participation once or twice per week is recommended, however, participation in other sports three to four times per week is considered essential for future excellence. No competition takes place during this stage but athletes are introduced to the simple rules and ethics of sports.
Learning to Train – (male 9-12, female 8-11 years)
The fundamental movement skills should be further developed in this phase and specialized movement skills (i.e. sports skills) should be introduced. Athletes in this age group are believed to be the most receptive to learning motor skills, indeed, if fundamental motor skills are not appropriately developed in this age group, the ability of the athlete to reach their full potential may be compromised. Strength exercises should be developed with a medicine ball and bodyweight exercises whilst endurance should be established through games and relays. Basic flexibility exercises are introduced during this phase, while speed can be developed further with specific activities during the warm-up, such as agility, quickness, and change of direction. A 70:30 training-to-competition ratio is recommended and training should start to adopt a ‘periodized’ approach.
Training to Train Phase – (male 12-16, female 11-15 years)
The aim of this phase is for young athletes to consolidate and further develop basic sport-specific skills and tactics. Athletes should experience a growth spurt during this phase and this is associated with optimal aerobic trainability. Aerobic training should be prioritized after the growth spurt, whilst strength, speed, and skill should be maintained or developed further. Special emphasis on flexibility training is also warranted following the growth spurt. The training-to-competition ratio increases to 60:40 and athletes should now be engaging in competitive practice on a daily basis. A ‘play to win’ begins to be encouraged, but the major focus of training is still on learning the basics.
Training to Compete – (male 16-18, female 15-17 years)
This phase should seek to optimize overall fitness preparation and skill development, with individual and discipline/position-specific skills now further emphasized. Training becomes much more individualized to focus on an athlete’s specific strengths and weaknesses. Strength training with free weights tends to be introduced at this point. The training-to-competition ratio is now increased to 50:50.
Training to Win – (male 18+, female 17+ years)
This is the final stage of athlete preparation and the emphasis now shifts to specialization and performance enhancement. The training-to-competition ratio phase is 25:75, with the competition percentage including competition-specific training activities, and athletes are trained to ‘peak’ for specific competitions.
A note on specialization
Specialization refers to a young athlete training and competing in a single sport. Early specialization, accepted as specializing before the age of 10, is encouraged by many coaches and parents due to the belief that ‘practice makes perfect’ and the recent popularity of ‘training-over-talent’ arguments such as the 10,000 hours theory. It is important to state that 10,000 hours is not a prerequisite or guarantee of sporting success, the quality of the practice is the most important factor. Early specialization is associated with an increased risk of injury, overtraining, and early retirement from the sport, and should therefore be discouraged in youth athletes.
What the current LTAD model does well
Highlight the importance of physical literacy and fundamental movement skills
Discourage early specialization
Emphasize training over competition for young athletes
Identify windows of accelerated adaptation
We haven’t hit the nail on the head yet
There is no question that the LTAD model has been a huge step in the right direction. This framework has now been implemented in almost all of the mainstream sports and our athletes of tomorrow will be all the better for it.