Introduction to Long Term Athlete Development

LTAD is a model created by Dr. Istvan Balyi to guide the athletic development process from pre-puberty through retirement. An LTAD approach emphasizes age-appropriate skill acquisition to maximize the athlete’s potential and builds progressively throughout a player’s career moving to more detailed instruction as he reaches the next level. Children progress through different developmental stages; the LTAD model reconciles athletic development with natural development.

“From early childhood to maturation, people go through several stages of development, which include pre-puberty, puberty, post-puberty and maturation. For each development stage there is a corresponding phase of athletic training” (Bompa).

Sport scientists use these principles to take a proactive approach to athlete development. These models guide athletes, coaches and league organizers so each athlete receives the best opportunity to reach his peak performance.

Research suggests “it takes 8-to-12 years of training for a talented player/athlete to reach elite levels. This is called the 10-year or 10,000 hour rule,” (Balyi and Hamilton, 2003; Ericsson).

However, despite the long path to greatness, “parents and coaches in many sports still approach training with an attitude best characterized as ‘Peaking by Friday,’ where short-term approach is taken to training and performance with an over-emphasis on immediate results,” (Balyi and Hamilton, 2003).

An LTAD plan creates a gradual progression where coaches teach athletes the game in stages, rather than all at once, coordinating the instruction and programs with the athlete’s motivations and developmental phases. With an expectation to win, a youth coach has little time to teach the basics and prepare for a game; a Peak by Friday coach prepares for the game to the detriment of his players’ development.

Instead, for young or novice players, actual basketball skills should comprise very little of the practice time, as players learn to move without a ball before dribbling: one adds and subtracts before doing long division and athletes need to move well before dribbling and playing defense.

A Peak by Friday coach ignores general movement skills and gradual skill progression. The coach teaches set plays and a press break to prepare for the up-coming game. While these lessons have their place, the ability to move supersedes all basketball-specific skills.

The Peak by Friday mentality stifles individual development because “overemphasizing competition in the early phases of training will always cause shortcomings in athletic abilities later in an athlete’s career,” (Balyi and Hamilton, 2003). If players never achieve a base level of athleticism, their athletic career ends prematurely.

The opposite of the Peak by Friday mentality is not an abdication of competitive play or the desire to win. Instead, the LTAD model proposes a balanced approach: players play to win, but practice to develop their skills and abilities.

“The reason why so many athletes plateau during the later stages of their careers is primarily because of an overemphasis on competition instead of training during the important period in their athletic development. The “Learn to Train” and “Training to Train” stages are the most important phases of athletic preparation. During these stages, we make or break an athlete,” (Balyi and Hamilton).

Given the physical education cuts plaguing school systems, leagues should include more players rather than cutting athletes. Cutting young athletes perpetuates the belief that talent manifests itself early and does not need nurturing or developing. However, players grow at different rates, hit puberty at different times, possess different work ethics, have varying motivations and receive different instruction.

Rather than cut kids and end their opportunity to progress in the competitive stream, we need more programs which enable more participants to play and develop. Even if these young athletes never play competitive athletics after elementary or middle school, the motor skill development aids their recreational activities throughout life. The LTAD model is not just a guiding principle for future professional athletes; it benefits all athletes, regardless of potential.

By following the LTAD model, recreational athletes learn more skills and have more fun, while elite athletes develop a greater base of athleticism to enhance their play as they reach adult basketball. Athletes do not develop overnight or by accident. The LTAD provides a model to guide athletes from pre-puberty through adult basketball in a sensible, efficient manner.

Balyi’s Late Specialization Model

Stage 1: The FUNdamental Stage
Age: Males 6-9/Females 6-8 years
Objective: Learn all fundamental movement skills (build overall motor skills)
Participation once or twice per week [in desired sport], but participation in other sports three or four times per week is essential for further excellence.

Stage 2: The Learning to Train Stage
Age: Males 9-12/Females 8-11 years
Objective: Learn all fundamental sports skills (build overall sports skills)
A 70:30 training/practice to competition ratio is recommended.

Stage 3: The Training to Train Stage
Age: Males 12-16/Females 11-15 years
Objectives: Build the aerobic base, build strength towards the end of the phase and further develop sport-specific skills (build the “engine” and consolidate sport-specific skills)
Experts recommend 60:40 training to competition ratio…and the 40 percent competition ratio includes competition and competition-specific training.

Stage 4: The Training to Compete Stage
Age: Males 16-18/Females 15-17 years
Objectives: Optimize fitness preparation and sport, individual and position-specific skills as well as performance (optimize “engine,” skills and performance)

The training to competition and competition-specific training ratio now changes to 50:50. 50% of available time is devoted to the development of technical and tactical skills and fitness improvements and 50% is devoted to competition and competition-specific training.

Stage 5: The Training to Win Stage
Age: Males 18+/Females 17+
Objectives: Maximize fitness preparation and sport, individual and position-specific skills as well as performance (maximize “engine”, skills and performance)
Training to competition ratio in this phase is 25:75, with the competition percentage including competition-specific training activities.

Stage 6: The Retirement/Retention Stage
Objectives: Retain athletes for coaching, administration, officials, etc.
(Balyi and Hamilton, 2003)

Buy Cross Over: The New Model of Youth Basketball Development as a paperback or as an e-book. 207-page book divided into four major age groupings and four major skill categories (Athletic, Psychological, Tactical and Technical).

“Brian McCormick hits a home run with his book on youth basketball…This is one of the few sources that is a quality book that hits the mark for players and coaches. I recommend it highly.” – Jerry Krause, Nat’l. Assoc. of Basketball Coaches Research Chairman

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