Long Term Athletic Development: Building up a model

In my opinion, LTAD refers to the need of having a system in place which allows the players to be exposed in a consistent manner through the years to a thoughtful progression of exercises with the essential components (body awareness, core stability, breathing patterns, etc) to develop a foundation, which will allow them to build movement patterns and more specific skills needed for sport performance. In this way, we will optimize the learning process of our players in a healthy and safe manner (Figure 1).

LTAD - Training Components

First of all, the maturation process and the training age of our players will guide us in the objective that we will have in each stage of the development. Training age is defined as the amount of time accumulated from both periodic and longitudinal participation in training programs and sport-related activities that foster the development of musculoskeletal health, basic movement patterns and overall physical fitness”. Therefore, LTAD is an adapted learning process to the individual competencies and physiological development of the young player.

“Therefore, LTAD is a common path but adapting the learning process to the individual competencies and physiologic development of the young player.”

Individual determination of the percentage of the adult height has been used as non-invasive indicator of maturity status (Malina RM, et al . 2005). The Peak Height Velocity (PHV) is the period in which an adolescent experiences their fastest upward growth in their stature. Based on PHV of each player we can differ three scenarios: Pre – PHV, During – PHV, Post – PHV. The individual growth and development in each stage has specific physiological characteristics that will impact directly the main training goals.

It is important to highlight that there is a de-conditioning associated with growth and development that can be especially detrimental, as injury risk factors may manifest during maturation (Ford KR et al. 2010, Heweett TE et at 2004, Myer GB et al 2009). In the absence of sufficient corresponding neuromuscular adaptation, musculoskeletal growth during maturation can influence the development of abnormal movement mechanics during certain activities (Ford KR et al. 2010, Heweett TE et at 2004). If not addressed early, these developmentally related injury risk factors may continue through adolescence and into young adulthood, thus predisposing young athletes to increased risk of a variety of musculoskeletal injuries (Heweett TE et at 2005, Myer GB et al 2010,2012). In addition, regular exposure to neuromuscular training early in life will increase the training age of youth and will likely set the stage for even greater gains in physical fitness during their post-pubertal years.

Contributing factor in strength and skills expressionFigure 3 reproduced from “Kraemer WJ, FrAC, Frykman PN, Conroy B, Hoffman J. Resistance Training

In youth there are several factors which contribute to motor control and strength expression. In children, motor control and strength may be less related to hypertrophy and more likely associated with neural development.

Myer GD et al 2013, proposed that integrative neuromuscular training focused on skill-related fitness (e.g. agility, reaction time, coordination, power, speed and balance) can maximize neural development during pre-adolescence and optimally prepare youth to capitalize on the consolidated factors which contribute to motor performance following the onset of puberty.

Based on what I exposed above, I propose the following development plan, having clearly defined three levels during the learning process from U9 until U18. Note that I choose these categories because they are the most used in academy levels, even though this can vary yearly.

LTAD stages and objectives

Instead of focusing on developing an specific mechanical and functional qualities (Strength, Speed, Endurance, Mobility, Stability) on an particular time (windows of opportunity, Balyi et al. 2005, 2013), this model is designed to deal with the holistic development of the individual, based on three pillars:

  • Training components needed for the person to have a high movement competency
  • Respect maturation stages (avoid detrimental types of training or supporting growth periods)
  • Training age (previous experience in training programs or physical activity)

Beside, the model of sensitive periods or windows of opportunity still creates many doubts and controversy, as Bas Van Hooren et al. published recently “Sensitive Periods to Train General Motor Abilities in Children and Adolescents: Do They Exist? A Critical Appraisal. Strength and Conditioning Journal, March 2020”

As you can see in figure 2, the first level would form the youngest categories U9 to U11-12 based on their competency and training age. In these categories the main focus will be skill acquisition and coordination, learning competences in three different areas:

  • Body (body awareness and movement)
  • Space (the relation with the space)
  • Time (the timing)                                                                                             Lago, 2015.

The exercises and task will be focus on global movements and open skills, since one of the constraints in these ages will be the children’s lack of attention.

The second level is formed by U12, U13, U14 and U15 categories. Also in this level, the main goal will be the skills acquisition, but the content is more specific and detailed, starting to build determining elements for sport performance and prevention such as:

  • Main movement patterns
  • Landing mechanics
  • Core stability
  • Breathing patterns
  • General movement skills (jump, bound and hop)
  • Specific movement skills (change of direction and sprinting)

LTAD - Training Components

In the last level the generations involved are from U15 to U18, basically after players pass their PHV. “If a child has engaged in appropriate training relative to their chosen activity, before and during maturation, they will be poised to capitalize on the many combinatory and consolidating factors that support motor skill performance during their post-pubertal training years”. (Figure 3)

The post-pubertal phase of development offers a unique opportunity for adolescents to benefit from significant neuromuscular adaptations, driven primarily via increases in testosterone, growth hormone and insulin-like growth factor (Malina, RM et al 2004). Irrespective of the rate of maturation (i.e. early, normal, or late), the alterations in hormonal profile associated with this stage of development will at some point lead to rapid developments in the musculoskeletal system. In addition to continued neural adaptation, the post-pubertal phase will also induce alterations to muscle cross-sectional area (Tonson A, et al. 2008), fiber pennation (Blimkie CJ, et al. 1989) and stiffness (Korff T, et al. 2009). There will also be natural adaptation to tendons, with research indicating that size (Koivunen-Niemela T, et al. 1995), elasticity (Kubo K, et al. 2001) and stiffness (Waugh CM, et al 2012) increase throughout a child’s development. Additionally, adolescents will typically experience further increases in bone mineral density during this period. (Van der Sluis IM, et al. 2002). Collectively, these adaptations lead to rapid gains in overall body mass.

Specifically, post-pubertal training programs should primarily focus on fundamental movement skills (FMS) maintenance to ensure that motor coordination patterns learned during the prepubertal and pubertal phases have not been negatively affected as a result of the growth spurt. However, muscular strength is central to the successful execution of FMS. Resistance training should be the cornerstone of the training program in order to build on existing strength levels and to take advantage of the increased hypertrophic environment within the muscle associated with the post-pubertal stage of development (Lloyd RS, et al 2012).  The two previous paragraphs have been taken literally with small modifications from the article How Young is “Too Young” to Start Training? Gregory D, et al. 2013.

Based on the conclusions and explanations shown above, this level 3 will be focused but not limited by the following training components:

  • Maximal Strength and Maximal Power
  • Strength Hypertrophy
  • Explosive Strength (Fast Concentric muscle contraction)
  • Reactive Strength (low -fast SSC)
  • General movement skills (jump, bound and hop)
  • Specific movement skills (change of direction and sprinting)
  • Complexes drills: Football & Movement skills (COD,s, Acceleration, Max Speed,  Deceleration , Pressing, Ball protection, Heading, kicking, etc )

As an example, at Aspire Academy we invest the first two years of the full time player process (U13-U14) focusing on body awareness and movement competency , with training elements from level 1 & 2 of the model proposed above.

Specifically, in this level we learn to:

  • Control the trunk and pelvis
  • Engage the core to stabilize the movements of arms/legs
  • Perform main movement patterns
  • Landing and jumping mechanics
  • Change of direction mechanics



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