A Short Guide to Long Term Athlete Development (LTAD)
Scientific research has identified that it takes at least 10 years, or 10,000 hours for talented athletes to achieve sporting excellence. There are no short cuts! There are two ways in which young swimmers can improve their performance:
- Growth and development
Long Term Athlete Development (LTAD) is about achieving optimal training, competition and recovery throughout an athlete's career, particularly in relation to the important growth and development years of young people. If a long term approach to training is not adopted there is likely to be a plateau in performance, when growth and development slows significantly. Which for some swimmers may result in their performances getting worse. At this point the short-term training approach cannot be reversed. This often leads to drop out before a swimmer has achieved close to their potential.
Reasons for LTAD
There are five clear reasons for introducing a long term athlete development approach:
- To establish a clear swimmer development pathway
- To identify gaps in the current swimmer development pathway
- To realign and integrate the programmes for developing swimmers and swimming in Britain
- To provide a planning tool, based on scientific research, for coaches and administrators
- To guide planning for optimal performance.
Long Term Athlete Development (LTAD) is a sports development framework that is based on human growth and development. In short, it is about adopting an athlete centred approach to swimming development.
All young people follow the same pattern of growth from infancy through adolescence, but there are significant individual differences in both the timing and magnitude of the changes that take place. It is however important to stress that human growth and development happens without training, however swimming training can enhance all of the changes that take place.
A number of scientists have reported that there are critical periods in the life of a young person in which the effects of training can be maximised. This has led to the notion that young people should be exposed to specific types of training during periods of rapid growth and that the types of training should change with the patterns of growth. These have been used by Dr Istvan Balyi to devise a five stage LTAD framework that has been adapted to swimming:
- FUNdamental – basic movement literacy
- SwimSkills – building technique
- Training to train – building the engine
- Training to compete – optimising the engine
- Training to win – maximising the engine
Stage 1 – FUNdamental
AGE: Female: 5 to 8 years / Male: 6 to 9 years.
The FUNdamental stage should be structured and fun! The emphasis is on developing basic movement literacy and fundamental movement skills. The skills to be developed are the ABCs (Agility, Balance, Coordination, Speed), RJT (Running, Jumping, Throwing), KGBs (Kinesthetics, Gliding, Buoyancy, Striking with the body) and CKs (Catching, Kicking, Striking with an implement). In order to develop basic movement literacy successfully participation in as many sports as possible should be encouraged. Speed, power and endurance should be developed using FUN and games. In addition, children should be introduced to the simple rules and ethics of sports. No Periodisation should take place, but there should be well-structure programmes with proper progressions that are monitored regularly.
Stage 2 – Swim Skills: Building technique!
AGE: Female: 8 to 11 years / Male: 9 to 12 years.
During this stage young swimmers should learn how to train and develop the skills of a specific sport. There may be participation in complementary sports, i.e. those sports, which use similar energy systems and movement patters. They should also learn the basic technical/tactical skills, and ancillary capacities, including:
- Warm up and cool down
- Hydration and nutrition
- Relaxation and focusing
This stage coincides with peak motor co-ordination, therefore there should be an emphasis on skill development.
Training should also include the use of ‘own body weight' exercises medicine ball and Swiss ball exercises as well as developing suppleness.
Although the focus is on training, competition should be used to test and refine skills. The recommended training to competition ratio is 75% to 25%. There should be single periodisation. If a young swimmer misses this stage of development then he/she will never reach their full potential. One of the main reasons athletes plateau during the later stages of their careers is because of an over emphasis on competition instead of optimising training during this very important stage.
Stage 3 – Training to Train: Building the engine!
AGE: Female: 11 to 16 years / Male: 12 to 15 years.
During the Training to Compete stage, There should be an emphasis on aerobic conditioning. This is the stage where there is greater individualisation of fitness and technical training. The focus should still be on training rather than competition and the training should be predominantly of high volume, low intensity workloads. It is important to emphasise that high volume, low intensity training cannot be achieved in a limited time period, and therefore the time commitment to training should increase significantly. As the volume of training increases there is likely to be a reduction in the number of competitions undertaken. However, there should now be specific targets for each competition undertaken with a view to learning basic tactics and mental preparation. There should be either single or double periodisation of the training year.
During this stage, training should continue to develop suppleness and to include the use of 'own body weight' exercises; medicine ball and Swiss ball exercises. However towards the end of this stage, preparations should be made for the development of strength, which for girls occurs at the end of this stage and for boys at the beginning of the next stage. This should include learning correct weight lifting techniques. The ancillary capacities (the knowledge base of how to warm up and warm down; how to stretch and when to stretch; how to optimise nutrition and hydration; mental preparation; regeneration; how and when to taper and peak; pre-competition, competition and post competition routines) should be established.
Similar to the previous stage, if insufficient time is devoted to this stage or it is missed, then the young swimmer will never reach their full potential.
Stage 4 – Training to Compete: Optimising the engine!
AGE: Female: 14 to 16 years / Male: 15 to 18 years.
During the training to compete stage there should be a continued emphasis on physical conditioning with the focus on maintaining high volume workloads but with increasing intensity. The number of competitions should be similar to the end of the previous stage but the emphasis should be on developing individual strengths and weaknesses through modelling and nurturing technical and tactical skills based around specific strokes or distances, but not both. As a result, there should be either double or triple periodisation of the training year. In addition, the ancillary capacities should be refined so they are more specific to the individual's needs.
During this stage, training should also focus on developing maximum strength gain through the use of weights. This should be coupled with continued work on core body strength and maintaining suppleness.
Stage 5 – Training to Win: Maximising the engine!
AGE: Female: 16+ years / Male: 18+ years.
This is the final stage of athletic preparation. The emphasis should be on specialisation and performance enhancement. All of the athletes' physical, technical, tactical, mental, and ancillary capacities should now be fully established with the focus shifting to the optimisation of performance. Athletes should be trained to peak for specific competitions and major events. Therefore, all aspects of training should be individualised for specific events. There should be either double, triple or multiple periodisation, depending on the events being trained for. During this stage, training should continue to develop strength, develop core body strength and maintain suppleness.