LTAD Models and Filling the Talent Pool by Rick Howard
We are all “athletes”
Long term athletic development (LTAD) is a hot topic. I am excited to be part of two national initiatives to identify how best to implement a long term plan for children and youth in the US. I feel that LTAD is not the best name for a long-term plan to engage kids in a lifelong effort to not only play sports but also be physically active across the lifespan. Being “athletic,” as it relates to having motor skill competence, self-efficacy of movement skills, and positive experiences in physical education, sports, and play are key indicators of continued participation in sports and physical activity. If athletic is properly defined, we can all agree that it is appropriate, but other terms such as participant, youth, or physical activity have been suggested. Some key contributors to the plan may be turned off by the term athletic, so it is critical to the success of an LTAD plan that all key players in youth sport, recreation, physical education, health, government and education agree on the terminology in order to work together to make an LTAD model a successfully implemented reality.
LTAD models and filling the Talent Pool
To fill the talent pool, we need to provide ALL kids multiple opportunities to participate in a wide variety of sports and physical activities. LTAD models create a generic guide that can be used to plan the long-term phases and progressions of any sport/activity. With our current over-emphasis on product (winning, competition, and early sport specialization) and our under-emphasis on process (learning fundamental motor skills and applying them in a variety of activities, based on where each child is on the developmental continuum) we clearly need a document to guide and educate coaches, parents, teachers and other persons of influence to do what is best for kids.
The cornerstone of an effective LTAD model is an early start (often between 6 and 8 years of age) on learning fundamental movement skills in a fun, interactive, and dynamic environment. Part of physical literacy is that powerful movement vocabulary must be taught before specific sports skills can be learned and applied. This is why it is so critical to have a certified movement professional, that is, quality physical education teacher, at the elementary level. Without successful adaptation within the critical preadolescent years, it becomes increasingly difficult to engage youngsters in physical activity and nearly impossible to coach them on the path to the master level of athletics when they reach adolescence.
The most popular model to date is the Canadian LTAD model (www.canadiansportforlife.ca). The visual representation of their model looks like this:
The Canadian model established clear stages for developing physical literacy and is predominantly physiological in design (more so than social and psychological). While it has an exit to their Active for Life stage it does not include re-entry points for physical activity throughout the year, which I feel is extremely important (see Ford: http://www.sportni.net/NR/rdonlyres/991FF96E-C6DB-4700-A900-F4DF2732E81A/0/ParticipantDevelopmentinSport.pdf for more information on this key topic). For example, when kids are pushed into early specialization in one sport and they end up not being as competitive as their peers by age 10 or 11, they have not only lost out on key periods of developing fundamental movement skills but also often find themselves without the skill set for other sports and activities and drop out entirely. Key Ingredients for a successful model, then, include identifying key participants, focusing on positive youth development, and incorporating both sports and play.
Challenges to Implementation
Establishing a national model for LTAD is imminent, but there are several reasons we cannot simply adopt a model already created:
- US Sports model differs from other nations– we do not have a government run sport system and our school-based sports program is unique. Funding, equitable access, and partnering need to be addressed as appropriate to each sport program, community, and stakeholder.
- Not every sport progresses in parallel and not every participant progresses at the same rate– many models follow a chronological age format with sports developmental levels based on age groups, which may not be the best way to set cutoffs and categories.
- Requires paradigm shift from product to process– our culture is so ingrained with our “win at all cost, no matter what age” mentality that it is going to take a Herculean effort by everyone involved to change that mindset.
- Need all shareholders to buy in for maximum implementation– there are many agencies, institutions, systems and individuals that must come together to provide a consistent message that positive youth physical, social, and psychological development is Priority #1.
I will keep you posted on my blog as we continue to develop the plan and work on the implementation strategy.
Playing lots of games without practicing is like taking lots of tests without studying (Learning)
(A related article I wrote for the National Strength and Conditioning Association can be found here: