LTAD – What does it mean?

By Simon Webb

Long Term Athlete Development (LTAD) is a term that has gathered considerable momentum in sport since 2003.  It began in Canada with a document called “Sport for Life”. Istvan Balyi, who is widely regarded as the leading expert for junior athletic development, devised the concept with a team of experts. This body of work has created a blueprint for athletic development for children as they begin at the base level of community sport programs progressing all the way through to competing at the elite level.

The principles of LTAD are based on scientific research that has been shown to enhance the learning and movement potential of a child when implemented at specific stages of their development. These opportunities that help to accelerate a child’s development are called “windows of trainability”. A window of trainability occurs during each stage of the LTAD pathway. Parents and coaches can take advantage of these critical periods to improve strength, power, endurance, agility, balance, coordination and speed, which are essential characteristics for all developing athletes.

Sports can typically be categorized into two streams:

  • Early Specialization, such as gymnastics and diving
  • Late Specialization, most sports fall into this category such as golf, football, tennis, soccer and baseball.

The LTAD model, as created by Istvan Bayli, has further defined these 2 streams into specific stages of development and broken them into age appropriate stages. Each stage reflects which physical competencies should be achieved for that age taking into consideration factors such as critical periods of trainability, biological growth, onset on puberty, height and strength.

The age appropriate stages for early specialization (5) and late specialization (7) sports are shown below.

Early Specialization Model

Late Specialization Model

1. Active Start

1. Active Start(0-5years)

2. Training To Train

2. FUNdamental stage

(Females 6-8 Males 6-9 years)

3. Training to Compete

3. Learning to Train

(Females 8-11 Males 9-12 years)

4. Training to Win

4. Training to train

(Females 11-15 Males 12-16 years)

5. Retirement / Retainment  (active for life)

5. Training to Compete

(Females 15-17 Males 16-18 years)

6. Training to Win

(Females 17+ Males 18+)

7. Retirement / Retainment

(active for life)

Regardless of whether a sport is classified as early or late in specialization, a generalized approach to early training and the development of the essential motor skills is paramount. This will ensure that a child develops “physical literacy” first, upon which excellence can then be built later in adolescence. Physical literacy refers to the mastering of fundamental motor skills and sporting skills such as running, jumping, kicking, throwing, hitting and catching.

The first 3 stages of the Late Specialization Model encourage physical literacy and activity for all sports:

  • Active Start (0-5years)

  • FUNdamental (Females 6-8 Males 6-9 years)

  • Learning to Train (Females 8-11 Males 9-12 years)


The next 3 stages focus on the development of excellence:

  • Training to train (Females 11-15 Males 12-16 years)
  • Training to Compete (Females 15-17 Males 16-18 years)
  • Training to Win (Females 17+ Males 18+)


The final stage encourages life long physical activity

  • Active for life

Scientific research that began in 1973 with Herbert Simon and William Chase and has since been supported by others such as Anders Ericsson, have found that to become an expert requires about 10 years of experience and approximately 10,000 hours of deliberate practice. This is known as the ten-year rule.

For parents and coaches, this means for a talented athlete to reach elite levels they will need to do slightly more than 3 hours of practice (this can include competition) per day. However, achieving elite levels in golf is not just about hitting golf balls, it is about developing and mastering the essential skills at each stage of development.

Some of the greatest challenges to the successful implementation of an LTAD model lies with parents, coaches, schools and associations that are demanding winners at all age groups, as well as sporting organizations that impose adult competition schedules on young players. This only encourages early specialization in a sport before age 10. Coaching and training that is geared around immediate success and competition that emphasizes chronological age rather than developmental stage, will always disadvantage the late developer.

These factors lead to a greater likelihood of burn out or injury, dysfunction, poor movement patterns, an increase in poor technique, resulting in a decrease in skill development and ultimately drop out before they can achieve their full potential.

While the LTAD model is a good template to follow, it is not a guaranteed recipe for success as research also demonstrates that there are a multitude factors that can influence a child either positively or negatively especially when looking at the cognitive, emotional, socio-economic and psycho-social development of children through adolescence. However, a long-term commitment to well planned practice, training, competition and recovery will ensure optimum development throughout an athlete’s career.

Over the coming months this website will give you tips from current players, exercises, drills and ideas for coaches and parents to enhance the long term athletic development of their young players.

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