After presenting at the National Strength and Conditioning Association state clinic in Georgetown this past Saturday, I decided to take a trip to Florida.
No, not because I thought I deserved a vacation in the middle of winter (although this trip served that purpose), but rather to cheer on my cousin Abby at her gymnastics meet, visit with my grandparents, and check out some potential condos in St. Augustine.
All valid reasons to book a flight at 10pm for 6am departure the next day, right?
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We once had a push up competition...I won't share who was victorious.
Abby took home five gold medals at her competition in Daytona Beach, and did so very humbly. It's great to see a young person win so graciously, even after all the time and dedication she puts in.
Although the gymnastics competition took over four hours, (four hours I could have been working on my tan, mind you) it was great to witness the success of my younger cousin first hand.
Although I didn't find any homes I wanted, it was beneficial as I now have a better understanding of real estate. Plus, I got to spend another few days on the beach.
Recap of Part I
In addition, I discussed some of the current issues in youth sports; unhealthy parent involvement, inexperienced coaches, early specialization, lack of properly designed practices/training programs, and the increase in overuse injuries among youth.
In part II, I'm going to jump into the seven stages of the Long Term Athlete Development model (LTAD); highlighting key points from each stage. I will finish the LTAD series with part III: alternatives to the LTAD model and resources for coaches, parents, teachers, and athletes.
The Seven STages of Long Term Athlete Development
One primary purpose of a Long Term Athlete Development model is to give players the opportunity to develop over time and not allow the initial differences at 9 years-old make decisions about who will be the best at 18.
Shifting the philosophy at 9 years-old toward development and away from designating the elite ultimately assists all players, not just the weaker players, as it encourages a broader foundation, which will help the better players overcome the early plateau or peak in performance that afflicts many of the so-called elite.
As you can see from the photo above, each stage in the LTAD has designated ages for both males and females. These ages are assuming the child follows the expected biological changes that all individuals go through. Obviously, if a child is a "late bloomer," you would want to make sure they remain in the appropriate stage before progressing.
Lack of distinguising between chronological age and biological age has been a criticism of previous long term models. By measuring peak-height velocity throughout the maturation process, the biological age (most important) can be determined and used to progress through each stage.
The descriptions for the following stages was taken from the CS4L website. You can find out more here.
Stage One - "Active Start"
From 0-6 years, boys and girls need to be engaged in daily active play. Through play and movement, they develop the fundamental movement skills that will provide the foundation for learning fundamental sports skills at older ages.
From ages 0-6 years, children need to be introduced to unstructured active play that incorporates a variety of body movements. Children this age need to develop the ABCs of movement – Agility, Balance, Coordination and Speed.
The ABCs are essential for developing fundamental movement skills, and fundamental movement skills will later provide the foundation for fundamental sport skills. Together, fundamental movement skills and fundamental sport skills form the basis of physical literacy.
An early active start enhances development of brain function, physical coordination, gross motor skills, and posture and balance. An active start also helps children to build confidence, social skills, emotional control, and imagination while reducing stress and improving sleep.
Children in the Active Start stage should see physical activity as a fun and exciting part of everyday life
Stage Two - "Fundamentals"
During the FUNdamental stage children should develop fundamental movement skills, including the ABCs of Agility, Balance, Coordination and Speed. Children should participate in a fun and challenging multi-sport environment.
Early elementary school age children need to participate in a variety of well-structured activities that develop basic skills. However, activities and programs need to maintain a focus on fun, and formal competition should only be minimally introduced.
Children should be exposed to a variety of sports and physical activities throughout the year, developing their interests and motivation while avoiding the danger of burnout through premature specialization.
Learning fundamental movement skills throughout this stage is a key to the overall development of physical literacy. The ABCs of Agility, Balance, Coordination and Speed are foundation blocks for developing fundamental movement skills.
Stage Three - "Learn To Train"
During the Learn to Train stage children should be converting their fundamental movement skills into fundamental sport skills. This stage is “The Golden Age of Learning” for specific sport skills.
Children in the Learn to Train stage are ready to begin training according to more formalized methods. However, the emphasis should still be on general sports skills suitable to a number of activities. As well, a greater amount of time should be spent training and practicing skills than competing.
It may be tempting to specialize at this age through excessive single sport training or early position specialization in team sports. This should be avoided in most sports.
Inappropriate or premature specialization can be detrimental to later stages of athlete development if the child is playing a late specialization sport. Premature specialization promotes one-sided development and increases the likelihood of injury and burnout.
There are a few sports that are recognized as early-specialization sports, such as gymnastics, figure skating, and diving. It is appropriate to provide more training hours and concentrated focus in these activities
Stage Four - "Train to Train"
During the Train to Train stage young athletes need to build an aerobic base and consolidate their sport- specific skills. Towards the end of the stage, they need to focus on strength and the anaerobic alactic energy system. Increased training hours are needed at this stage to develop each athlete’s long-term potential.
The ages that define the Train to Train stage are based on the approximate onset and end of the adolescent growth spurt. This period is generally defined as ages 11 to 15 years for females and 12 to 16 years for males.
At this stage, athletes are ready to consolidate their basic sport-specific skills and tactics. It is also a major fitness development stage.
The Train to Train stage makes or breaks the athlete. Athletes may exhibit special talent, play to win, and do their best, but they still need to allocate more time to training skills and physical capacities than competing in formal settings. To maximize their long-term potential, winning should remain a
This approach is critical to the long-term development of top performers and lifelong participants.
To ensure their program is following the correct training-to-competition ratio, along with other guidelines that describe training design and competition objectives at each LTAD stage, coaches and parents should consult the sport-specific LTAD plan from their sport’s national organization.
Stage Five - "Train To Compete"
In the Train to Compete stage athletes choose one sport in which they will train to excel. Athletes will train to solidify their sport-specific and position-specific skills and all of their physical capacities. These athletes are aiming to compete in national and international events.
At the Train to Compete stage of LTAD, this is where competition becomes “serious.” Athletes enter this stage if they have chosen to specialize in one sport and excel at the highest level of competition possible.
Athletes need to commit to high-volume and high-intensity training throughout the year. Instruction in topics such as nutrition, sport psychology, recovery and regeneration, injury prevention, and injury management also become very important.
Formal competition becomes more prominent in annual periodized training, competition and recovery plans, and includes major national and international events.
Train to Compete athletes are not the average community sport program participant. They committed athletes with recognized talent who have chosen an elite pathway that few others pursue.
Stage Six - "Train to Win"
The Train to Win stage is the final stage of the LTAD high-performance stream. Medals and podium performances are the primary focus.
In the Train to Win stage of LTAD, athletes with identified talent pursue high-intensity training to win international events. They are now full-time athletes.
The previous LTAD stages have developed and optimized the skills, tactics, and ancillary capacities of each athlete. Athletes have now realized their full genetic potential. They must now train to maximize and maintain their competitive performance at the highest level.
At the Train to Win stage, world-class athletes with or without disabilities require world-class training methods, equipment, and facilities that meet the demands of the sport and the athlete.
stage Seven - "Active for Life"
Active for Life is both a stage in LTAD and an outcome. The Active for Life stage of LTAD is the final destination of all individuals.
In this stage, athletes and participants enjoy lifelong participation in a variety of competitive and recreational opportunities in sport and physical activity. This stage can be entered at any age, beginning with developing physical literacy in infancy.
In stage seven, no one is pursuing Olympic or open World Championship glory. Some athletes are still involved in very high-performance competition that is not leading to the Olympics or World Cups while others are pursuing sport and physical activity for fitness and health, all for personal satisfaction.
Under ideal circumstances, athletes and participants enter the Active for Life stage of LTAD at one of two times:
1) After they have developed physical literacy by the end of the Learn to Train stage and chosen to pursue
sport and physical activity according to the goals of the Active for Life stage
2) After they have exited the LTAD high-performance training and competition stream (Train to Train, Train
to Compete, and Train to Win stages).
Even though this post was VERY long, I hope that it started to stir some thoughts in your brain regarding how we currently train our youth athletes.
Stay tuned for part III discussing a proposed improvement to the long term athlete development model,
as well as links to resources for coaches, parents, teachers, and athletes.