Long Term Athlete Development – what it is and why parents should care

You may or may not have heard the phrase Long Term Athlete Development, also commonly referred to by its acronym, LTAD. If you’re a parent and haven’t heard the term, you’ll certainly want to know what it means.

WinSport's programs are designed with the Long Term Athlete Development framework.
WinSport’s programs are designed with the Long Term Athlete Development framework.

Simply put, it is a sport framework that is designed to ensure children – beginning before puberty – do the right things at the right time in sport activities to develop a life-long love for sport and successfully participate at elite levels, if they choose to do so.

“Sport never had a K to 12 model as our education system does, so the LTAD is just that,” explains Jennifer Konopaki, Director, Sport Leadership, at WinSport. “LTAD provides a framework for coaches, trainers and educators at all levels on how to appropriately structure their programs and practices so it is optimal, developmentally. It’s detailed for every age and gender. For example, it outlines what girls need opposed to boys – it’s really Canada’s food guide for sport.”

History

So where did this LTAD framework come from? It started in 2002, when the Canadian Federal, Provincial and Territorial (F-P/T) Ministers adopted the Canadian Sport Policy, which was a commitment to enhance participation, excellence, capacity and interaction in Canadian sport. The policy had a vision of ‘A dynamic and leading-edge sport environment that enables all Canadians to experience and enjoy involvement in sport to the extent of their abilities and interests and, for increasing numbers, to perform consistently and successfully at the highest competitive levels.” (Canadian Sport Policy, 2002).

Since then, sport organizations have been adopting the LTAD framework into their programming and it’s something WinSport is also proud to integrate into all its programming supported by its mission: “to provide opportunities for Canadians to discover, develop and excel at sport through world-class training, facilities and exceptional experiences.”

“The incredible thing at WinSport is we have the entire framework in action,” says Konopaki.

LTAD in WinSport programming

Take for example WinSport’s ski and snowboarding programs, where children can start as early as three years old. Because all programs are based on the LTAD framework, the child begins being comfortable on snow and as they age, they’re introduced to programs to refine the skills they have learned in multi-disciplined programs. Eventually, if they wish, they’re then encouraged to move on to WinSport’s developmental teams. From there, they can then learn in a high-performance environment where many athletes can move on to provincial and national teams.

A key component of the LTAD framework is to develop fundamental movement skills (FMS) for children at an appropriate age, which then sets them up for success for the rest of their lives. FMS are simple skills opposed to those learned for specific sports. Examples of fundamental movement skills include throwing, catching, kicking, running and exercises to improve flexibility and movement.

“If you have a three-year-old and all they do is play hockey, they are very specialized, but they don’t have those fundamental sport skills that carry them through life,” Konopaki explains. “What happens after hockey? Will they be able and willing to play soccer, or participate in a corporate baseball tournament or whatever else their life is going to bring? It is so essential that these fundamental skills are developed in the optimal window so they learn these skills that will help them down the road.”

As noted on Sport for Life’s website: “Encouraging children to enjoy moving and promoting confidence in movement skills at an early age helps to ensure later participation in physical activity.”

LTAD giving parents confidence

Parents spend a lot of time and money helping introduce their kids to sport so they have fun and lead a healthy life. Konopaki says the LTAD framework gives parents the assurance that their child is receiving the most appropriate training and instruction that will lead to both their enjoyment and success in sport and physical activity.

“It provides quality assurance and confidence to you as a parent that the programming is appropriate based on your child’s needs,” says Konopaki.

She also says the LTAD framework gives coaches the guidance as to when children should begin to specialize in a particular sport, which was a major flaw in programming prior to the LTAD framework.

“We tend to specialize at a young age in Canada, which makes children one dimensional and more prone to injury,” says Konopaki. “So you end up with a hockey player opposed to an athlete that plays hockey. It’s important to read up on it as a parent – when you’re engaged with a local baseball organization for example, you can see if the age and coaching is appropriate based on the established research and science.”

For any new policy or guideline, there has to be influential people or organizations to champion the initiative. That’s where Sport for Life comes into play. It’s an organization that promotes developing physical literacy and improving the quality of sport programs based on long-term athlete development (LTAD) principles. Starting in 2005, the organization evolved into a movement led by a network of experts and champions working across sport, recreation, education and health, from community to national levels.

David Legg, a member of the Canadian Sport for Life Leadership team in the mid-2000s helped write the LTAD for athletes with a disability, known as No Accidental Champions. Legg notes that among other benefits “the LTAD framework helps identify what ages children should be introduced to specific training programs.” Legg also explains that another benefit from a multi-sport approach is helping lower the incidence of injuries due to overuse.

These are a few of the benefits from using the LTAD framework and a commitment to physical literacy and a multi-sport approach. Now, large organizations such as WinSport, to community parent volunteer coaches have a plethora of resources specific to their sport and age of participants in which they design programs and coach under an LTAD framework. It’s all located here: http://sportforlife.ca/wp-content/uploads/2017/04/LTAD-2.1-EN_web.pdf?x96000

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