More and more national sports organizations are embracing a Long-Term Athletic Development (LTAD) approach to high athletic achievement in youth sports. The US Olympic Committee, USA Hockey, US Lacrosse, and many others have moved quickly towards a model that is widely accepted worldwide as the best way to make youth sports both productive and fun for our kids.
HOW LTAD WORKS
Proper physical development at all ages is endorsed by doctors as the best way to lower the alarming rise in youth sports injuries,* on top of developing the most successful athletes and all-around healthier kids. Canadian Sport for Life**, a movement dedicated to improving the quality of sport and physical activity throughout life, has created a model for LTAD in a series of development stages:
FUNdamentals (Age 9 and under) – Focus on FUN and participation in a variety of skill-based activities. Agility, balance, coordination and speed are highly emphasized. Running, jumping, throwing and bodyweight strength are key exercise categories but should be done in an engaging format. Daily physical activity is recommended
Learning to Train (Ages 9-12) – They refer to this as the ‘major skill learning stage’, because foundational athletic skills are best maximized before age 14. Coordination patterns become more complex. Three sport-specific practices or games with three more supplemental athletic development events are recommended.
Training to Train (ages 12-15) – This marks the beginning of the true aerobic and strength development years. While the fun should not go away, more intensive cardio and weight training become beneficial during these years. Six to nine practices, games and training sessions per week are recommended.
Training to Compete (Ages 16-23) – This is when the ‘sport-specific’ training model becomes most valuable. Cardio work that matches sport demands, strength and power work that targets the greatest areas of need in a specific sport should now take hold. Nine to twelve practices, games and training sessions per week are recommended
As athletes progress to the Training to Train and Training to Compete stages, workouts are also periodized throughout the year for maximal development. Off-season workouts occur with more frequency and often are higher in intensity, but change the focus every 1-3 months to develop a range of athletic skills (maximal strength, speed, explosive power, flexibility, etc). In-season training typically only strives to minimize injury risk and maintain the power and speed gains made in the off-season.
WHY FIND THE TIME?
“Without realizing the hazards of a short-term approach, many athletes find that success early in sport does not translate to future performance because they neglected key developmental areas, or failed to maximize their opportunities at the right times in their development.”
– US Ski and Snowboard Association website
So often, the talented younger player finds themselves falling behind as the years go by. What starts as a promising athletic future is done in by an overemphasis on games and competition over building a foundation that stands the test of time.
It is our firm belief that LTAD is successful because it forces the body to continually adapt to moderate changes at a pace it can handle, as opposed to rapid increases to stress followed by prolonged periods of low or no stress.
Constant, age-appropriate strength training changes the density of bones, making them stronger and more resistant to the physical demands of sport. Working outward, the ligaments, muscles and tendons also strengthen from well-balanced, continual training, promoting both better performance and long-term health.
Continual speed and agility development helps refine complex movement patterns and helps athletes find the most efficient ways to run and cut, skills that almost all of us can do but few have mastered.
Coordination and flexibility, especially during growth years, helps to keep bodies that are constantly changing in the safest and healthiest state possible. It is during the awkward growth spurt years that injury levels are increasing most, running mechanics typically get knocked out of whack, and sports dropout rates skyrocket.
During an era of instant gratification, it is important to remember that rushing physical development can have profoundly negative consequences. The slow, steady approach to long-term athletic development is not only catching on nation-wide, it is scientifically backed as the best way to develop any young athlete.
www.unm.edu – “Resistance Training: Adaptations & Health Implications”, By Len Kravits, Ph. D