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Long-Term Athlete Development and the ABC’s of Training

February 19, 2014    17522 Views

TJ Buchanan | @usltjbuchanan

Long Term Athlete Development

Peyton Williams

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Parent: “The other parents on Billy’s U9 lacrosse team just started enrolling their kids into sport-specific training programs. They say that if their kids start now, they will be more likely to get scholarships when the time comes.”

Coach: “So what are you going to do?”

Parent: “I don’t know. You’re the coach, what do you think we should do?”

This situation begs the question: What DO you say?

Research by numerous national governing bodies, the United States Olympic Committee, and many others in sport has proven that early specialization in sport actually prevents an athlete from reaching their full potential. What they have found is what is best for children and their athletic development is participating in activities that match their stage of development.

Several NGBs and national coaching certification programs have developed long-term athlete development (LTAD) models to help guide parents, coaches and athletes toward making choices that are in the best interest of the athlete.

So, what is LTAD?

For starters, LTAD is a continual process from birth to adulthood. Experts in this field have divided this continuum into seven stages, with each stage having its own physical, mental, emotional and cognitive characteristics.

Coach: “Ok, listen…I’m a volunteer coach and I’m not an expert on the physical and cognitive developments of 8-year-olds. Tell me why I need to know about this LTAD stuff?”

Research has shown that the following ‘symptoms’ occur when the physical and cognitive needs of athletes are not being matched with their stages of development:

  • They don’t have fun
  • They develop bad habits because of the over-emphasis on winning
  • Their skill development is poor
  • They don’t reach their optimal performance level
  • They burn out and drop out of the sport altogether

Coach: “That all makes sense, but what do I tell Billy’s parents?”

Billy falls into what is identified as the FUNdamentals stage of LTAD, with developmental emphasis placed on general athleticism (Agility, Balance, Coordination and Speed), ethics of sport, participation and fun. So, Billy should be focused on having fun, enjoying the sport and being an overall athlete, not just being a lacrosse player.

Coach: “What can I do at my practices to help prepare my athletes for the next stage of development?”

Take a look at the model and see where your athletes fall. Use this model to help guide your planning for the preseason, in-season, postseason and offseason training regimens as appropriate.

As a general rule, the younger the athlete, the less specific their training should be, and as they mature, the more specific their training can become.

In 2014, the USOC will finalize and publish its American Development Model. US Lacrosse will follow suit with a long-term project to develop more lacrosse-specific resources and tools for administrators, coaches, parents and players that align lacrosse with the American Development Model over the next few years.

It will include developmentally appropriate skills, drills and practice plans. We believe that developmentally appropriate training will keep athletes involved longer, increase participation rates and ultimately lead to higher levels of skill development for all players.

TJ Buchanan is the coaching education content manager at US Lacrosse. Suggest topics for future coaching education posts in the comments section.

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