Action Potentials, Plants & Paul Revere: The Spread of LTAD & A Call to Action – Joe Eisenmann

Currently, there is considerable interest, discussion and debate about long-term athlete development (LTAD) in America. The IYCA is one of several groups educating and creating awareness on this topic, and there have been several excellent blogs and resources made available.

My entire life has been dedicated to the growing, maturing, exercising, and performing youngster. In the past year, I have given several talks along the lines of ‘LTAD: The Good, The Bad and The Ugly’ that cover a range of topics and concepts such as the current issues in youth sports and physical activity; the history and underpinnings of Long Term Athlete Development; the USOC American Development Model and the NSCA Long Term Athlete Development position statement; athleticism, physical literacy, and fundamental movement skills; training and sports science; and implementation.  Along the way, I unearth the Good, the Bad and the Ugly.

(If you are interested in hearing the full story consider attending the 2019 IYCA Summit, May 3-4 where I will be presenting a more in-depth analysis of LTAD.)

Since several other IYCA articles have outlined the basic tenets of LTAD, I’m not going to repeat them here. Likewise, most of us, if not all, are familiar with the ills of youth sports (e.g., over-competition and undertraining, early specialization, bad coaching, ‘microwaving’ young athletes, the win at all costs culture, overzealous parents, pay to play, etc.), along with inadequate school physical education and the resultant low levels of physical activity and fitness in today’s youth. Collectively, these issues add up to a repulsive grade of ‘C’ on the Aspen Institute’s Project Play Report Card on Youth Sports and the US Physical Activity Report Card. And, many consider this “grade inflation”!

So if I’m not going to write about principles of LTAD, what do I want to convey in this piece?

I’ve said this many times – we have the framework – a blueprint for athlete development and quality coaching. Now, we just need to implement it and hold the adults running youth sport programs accountable! And yes, that is easier said than done. But if we truly want to realize the human potential and outcomes of a physically active and fit culture and a youth sports system that provides a positive experience than it’s worth our time and energy.

Action Potentials, Plants and Paul Revere

So what the heck do action potentials, plants and Paul Revere have to do with LTAD? There is a word that ties these things together – propagation.

An action potential generated at the axon hillock propagates as a wave along the axon. The current spreads out along the axon, and depolarizes the adjacent sections of its membrane.

Plant propagation is the process of growing new plants from a variety of sources: seeds, cuttings, and other plant parts.

And Paul Revere? Recall from elementary school history and the Revolutionary War – One, if by land, and two, if by sea. These were the words penned in the Henry Wadsworth Longfellow poem of Paul Revere’s midnight ride to alert the Patriots how the British were coming.  

But still, what does this have to do with propagation? And LTAD?

Paul Revere was a propagator of information as he rode north towards Lexington alerting colonial militias along his route. In turn, by the end of the night about 40 riders were spreading the news and alerting others about the British Redcoats.

Think about it – an action potential, plants, and Paul Revere. From 1 signal, 1 piece of a plant, and 1 man grew a vast wave that impacted many.

spread of ltad

A call to action and a challenge….to propagate

So the good news is that there is increasing attention and interest in LTAD (or at least the ills of youth physical development) – we see it in news media, social media, and the USOC and its National Governing Bodies are beginning to push the American Development Model.  

However, we need to propagate and spread the message. If I am Paul Revere, you – the youth sports performance specialists, the physical educator, the strength and conditioning coach – are the next set of riders equipped to carry the message.

There are several reasons that the strength and conditioning coach can have an impact on LTAD in the community. First, the general skillset of the strength and conditioning coach includes the ability to teach the fundamental movement skills of body control, locomotion and object control and also the foundational movements of squat, lunge, pushes, pulls, rotation, sprinting, jumping, and change of direction.

Another important role the strength and conditioning coach (especially those with sport-specific acumen and experience) can fill is that of a coach educator and coach developer in the community. An off-season and/or pre-season coach education clinic that goes beyond the X’s and O’s (tactical) and provides a framework for quality coaching is well within the abilities of most strength and conditioning coaches. This clinic may include topics such as: the role of a coach, effective communication, motivating young athletes, teaching skills, designing effective practices, character development, and leadership. In addition, this is a good opportunity to discuss the general principles of LTAD and fundamental movement skills acquisition.

Beyond this one-time coach education, the strength and conditioning coach could potentially serve as a Coach Developer – educating, mentoring and overseeing the volunteer coaches in terms of appropriate coaching behaviour, practice planning, and conducting a practice with the overall goal to develop and improve coaches so that players maximize their potential at all ages.

So, this is my challenge – put this article done and start thinking about how you can impact your community. Who are the stakeholders that need to be involved? How will you communicate and work collaboratively with the coaches, parents and other stakeholders? You have the understanding of LTAD and the skillset to educate and implement fundamental movement skills and proper strength and conditioning activities that develop athleticism, and you have the ability to lead. What are you waiting for? Let’s go, you are Paul Revere – spread the word and prepare the foot soldiers for battle!

Men are mortal. So are ideas. An idea needs propagation as much as a plant needs watering. Otherwise both will wither and die.

B.R. Ambedkar

joe eisenmannJoe Eisenmann, PhD has dedicated his entire career and lifestyle to the physical development of young people in the context of physical activity, youth sports and fitness. His diverse roles have included youth sports coach, professor, researcher, strength and conditioning coach, sport scientist, Director of Spartan Performance and Director of High Performance and Coach Education at USA Football. Currently, he works with Volt Athletics, SPT, the NSCA, Leeds Beckett University and the UC-Irvine Pediatric Exercise and Genomics Research Center. He can be reached at joeeisenmann@gmail.com and follow him on Twitter @Joe_Eisenmann

For more detailed information about Long-Term Athlete Development, get the IYCA’s Long Term Athlete Development Roadmap – the most complete and practical guide to enhancing athleticism through every stage of development.

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