There is some buzz in the athletic performance and strength and conditioning industry regarding 'long term athletic development' (LTAD), but what exactly is that?
The main process behind LTAD is the realization that youth athletes have a lot of years to play sports, grow physically, socially and emotionally, and develop skills at each stage in their athletic career. A lot of current programs, for all ages, promise quick results, fast gains and reaching your peak in a short period of time. LTAD involves taking a step back, looking at the athlete as a whole and developing a process to make them a better athlete globally.
In order to achieve ongoing results, you first have to know the athlete: what their goals are, what their strengths are, what their weaknesses are, how they move, how they perform exercises and what is the process in which to create global improvement. This global improvement is not geared toward one sport. Playing a single sport does develop motor skills, coordination and specific movements for that sport, but it can also limit total development of the athlete and stunt their potential. An athlete who only plays soccer can be predisposed to hip injuries and never develop any throwing skills or quick start and stop skills that could improve their game and make them a better athlete.
LTAD is the foundation used to make athletes better. It involves a systematic program to introduce exercises, progress those exercises and tie those exercises into a sport. Many programs focus on only one facet of a program and neglect the other pieces. There are speed schools, agility classes, core classes and strength programs for athletes of all ages, but few places take all of those components and put them together in a larger framework to create well-rounded athletes. That is LTAD. It is understanding that athletes need a combination of strength, power, speed, reaction, acceleration, deceleration, agility, endurance and recovery and then creating a program that systematically addresses each component in an organized manner to deliver consistent results over time. Does this mean that a youth player will experience significant growth in six weeks? No. It means that the youth player will develop a foundation for ongoing engagement and learning that will lead to improvement and growth this year, next year, the year after that and so on.
The best way to have healthy, happy athletes is to expose them to different sports and challenge their ability to improve in a consistent manner over time.