Long Term Athletic Development (LTAD)
Introduction to LTAD
One of the more interesting things about sports training that the experts tend to disagree on is the kind of training that an athlete should undergo for a specific sport. Many people think that an athlete should only train for the sport when they decide exactly what it is they want to do, while other people disagree and make the argument that long term training is the only way for an athlete to truly excel at their adopted sport. Long Term Athletic Development (LTAD) is a field of athletic development whereby athletes train their whole life in order to do the sport that they love. Many of the top athletes in all of the different sports got to that position by utilizing LTAD techniques and it is very rare to find a top athlete in any of the professional sporting leagues that didn’t get their through the LTAD method.
LTAD is used with boys and girls of young ages who have shown an aptitude for physical activity and that are interested in developing their abilities as athletes. From a very young age (sometimes as young as five or six years old), boys and girls go through various stages of training in order to build up their physical abilities as well as their abilities that are specific to their chosen sport. Before a child can start on an LTAD training regimen, they need to decide what sport they are interested in the most. Early specialization sports are sports where the athlete branches off of the general training programs and begins to train for their specific sport very quickly. These include sports like gymnastics where you tend to see that a lot of athletes peak at a very early age.
The opposite of early specialization sports are late specialization sports. A late specialization sport where the athlete does not peak until a much later age (usually somewhere in their late twenties or early thirties) and includes a lot of track and field events as well as team sports like hockey and baseball. Once the child has gone onto the early specialization or late specialization tracks, the training is ready to commence.
Advantages of LTAD
The biggest advantage of long term athletic development is the results. People that are on LTAD programs are naturally going to be much more refined and much better at their athletic activities than people who are not involved in LTAD programs. Furthermore, they are going to be ready to progress up the ranks a lot faster as their training is being targeted over a long period of time to help them excel at their specific sport. It has long been known to sports trainers and health professionals alike that short amounts of training over a regular and prolonged amount of time are much more effective in the long run than irregular bursts of training that are more intense over that same amount of time and LTAD takes advantage of this well known fact perfectly.
Disadvantages of LTAD
The biggest drawback to the LTAD training style is the time taken. Children that start out on LTAD are going to be devoting a lot of time to their training over the course of their life and should they later on decide that they are no longer interested in sports, it might be difficult to find something else to do.
In the early specialization model, there are four steps that an athlete goes through. In the first stage, the training to train stage, the focus is on developing the athlete’s skills as well as their ability to train effectively through the use of proper exercise techniques. The next stage, the training to compete stage, is where all of the intensive optimization of the athlete occurs as well as the stage where the athlete starts to really develop the skills required for their chosen sport. After that is the training to win stage where the athlete now has the full skill set needed and the focus becomes on maximizing their abilities. Finally, the final retirement & retainment stage is where the athlete continues to maintain their fitness workouts with the coach but is done with their maximization and optimization exercises.
The late specialization model uses all four of those steps as well but adds two steps in front of them. The first step is the FUNdamentals step and the point of that step is simply to expose the child to as many different sports as possible and impress upon them the fun and exciting nature of physical activity. After that comes the learning to train step where children are given the full knowledge base that they need to know to continue on to the training to train stage, at which point late specialization is the same as early specialization.
LTAD does have its advantages, but there are also drawbacks involved with this method of training athletes. Ultimately, the decision should be left up to the child as it is their life that they are devoting to sports training and pressure should not be exerted upon them by coaches or parents in order to get them to make a specific decision one way or the other. Unfortunately at such a young age, one is not always mentally aware enough to make decisions that will shape their entire future, so much care must be given when making life decisions such as these.