LTAD and Early Specialization

The long term athlete development model (LTAD) is a plan that maps out athletic development over a person’s life span.  The LTAD suggests best practices for different developmental stages to best optimize the athletic, emotional and mental experience for athletes of a given development level.  The LTAD was designed, in part, to improve the performance based ‘win at all cost’ year round development models that have been plaguing athletes over the past few decades.

The early stages of the LTAD focus on fun and skill acquisition.  Fun, for young athletes, leads to greater focus throughout practices and ultimately improves their bodies’ ability to retain movement skills. Learning the language of movement is paramount in early stages of athletic development.  Because of this, it is very important that young athletes are exposed to a wide range of sports and/or movement practices at a young age. Exposing young athletes to multiple sports and/or physical activities during early, critical development periods, enhances motor learning and motor skill variety.

Want to see an athlete learn to move improperly?  Burn them out with excessive training volume while they are still developing movement skill proficiency (stabilization patterns, motor control, spatial awareness, etc.) and you will see their movements slowly fall apart.  You see, the body needs a fresh nervous system to get some things accomplished at an optimal level and one of them is motor learning (especially fine motor skills). It’s like trying to improve sprint speed while you are gassed from doing conditioning drills.

The early specialization approach to development has been repeatedly proven to fail athletes relative to their multi-sport peers. In a study conducted by Loyola University, researchers found single sport athletes to be 70%-93% more likely to suffer injury than athletes of multiple sports.  Sure, some sports require an immense amount of fine motor skill refinement from a young age.  Other sports, like gymnastic, have an optimal body type that don’t lend themselves well to older, more physically mature, competitors and becoming good at a young age is ones only chance of becoming world class.  These activities may act as exceptions, but putting in training time based on a theory that involves a set amount of hours of practice to become an ‘expert’ (which has been disproven) is ridiculous for young athletes.  Scientific research has also found (compared with multi-sport athletes) pre-pubescent single sport focus to be a pre-determining factor to early burn-out, earlier self dismissal from sport and inactivity in adulthood.  When NCAA division 1 athletes were polled, a large majority said they participated competitively in 2 or more sports up until the end of high school.

When you are helping your young child make athletic decision, think fun, variety and skill orientation.  For more information on these topics visit; http://canadiansportforlife.ca and/or www.activeforlife.com.

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