5 Myths of LTAD
By Wil Fleming
Long-term athletic development (LTAD) is one of the founding principles of the IYCA. As an organization, we want to promote sustainable training to create athletes who are not only more successful on the field and court in the short term but also happy and fulfilled in the long term. We want to create coaches who can help athletes succeed now but also can be the coaches of the future.
As an organization, this means that promoting a model of LTAD is more important than promoting ideas of “get faster in 6 weeks” or “throw a baseball harder in 12 weeks.” LTAD can achieve those goals, so I thought it might be useful to dispel some of the most commonly held myths about long-term athletic development.
Myth #1: LTAD is not for elite athletes.
The thinking goes that to be elite, you have to start at a young age and continue on in a linear path to reach the highest levels. Something along the lines of if you are the best at 10 years old, 12 years old, and so on, you will also be the best at 25 years old. This is simply not true.
The correctly applied model of LTAD provides athletes with growth at every stage: Birth-6, 6-9, 10-13, 14-18, 19+.
At each of these stages, the fundamentals must be mastered, and then the athlete can be progressed; it is through this model of continuous, small improvements that an athlete can potentially become an elite athlete.
Myth #2: LTAD only works in “Eastern-European” countries.
I have heard this one a lot: “Well, that only works in countries like the former Soviet Union or China, where you can choose athletes at a young age and develop them until they reach a world-class level.” This, too, is a myth.
The model of LTAD that the IYCA believes in has been shown to work even in the United States. In a poll of 300 Olympians, the USOC found that these athletes had played an average of 2 or more sports until the age of 18, and it was only after that age that they chose to specialize.
A properly applied model of LTAD can and does work in the Western Hemisphere on a daily basis.
Myth #3: LTAD says sport specialization is bad.
Specialization will happen; the age at which it happens is the part that we must be concerned with. Even classic models of LTAD recognize that sport specialization must occur and even in some cases at an early age (figure skating and gymnastics are the best examples) for an athlete to reach an elite or world-class level.
In most sports, however, the best case is for late specialization with an early introduction. This means athletes are first introduced to the rules and concepts then to the skills used to participate at an early age. Later in life, they choose to specialize only after participating in other sports and in general physical preparation-type training.
Myth #4: Playing multiple sports is what LTAD is.
Much of the data that we have regarding LTAD refers solely to the number of sports that athletes play during their development. While this is a large part of a properly implemented LTAD program, it is not the only part. In fact, year-round sport participation can actually lead to a higher chance of burnout.
I think we could agree that 10-year-olds playing on travel teams year-round in basketball, baseball, hockey, soccer, etc., would create the conditions that lead to burnout.
A properly designed LTAD program must also include general physical preparation that focuses on the development of physical literacy in all aspects (run, jump, throw, skip, catch, swim, balance, and more). We cannot only rely on multiple sport participation.
Myth #5: Athlete X didn’t do LTAD, so mine shouldn’t either.
This is a classic one: A great athlete someplace recounts how they started playing sport X when they were 8 years old, and only played that sport along the way. He or she never played anything else, trained with extreme specialization all along the way, or never hit a weight room ever, and now he or she is the greatest player on earth. Logically, the young athlete you are working with could follow the same path.
Wrong. These athletes are outliers. They truly are the best in the world and have the genetics to prove it. A better argument might be, “Can you imagine how good he or she would have been if he or she had been a part of an LTAD model?”
Now that’s a scary thought!
LTAD is the only true model that we can follow if we want to train our athletes the right way. Don’t fall prey to the outliers, misconceptions, and myths that surround proper training.
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