We have delved into the subject of Long-Term Athlete Development (LTAD) in our last blog post. We looked at the benefits that focusing on the long-term, holistic development of an athlete can bring. Many may feel that a lot of what adds up to the LTAD model is common sense – people mostly agree with the concept pretty easily. Yet we still see that actually applying LTAD to the whole training process as an overarching idea can be difficult as practical problems arise. But to solve these problems, we first have to define them.
1. Long-term goals vs short-term reality
World is moving quicker and quicker. People want instant gratification, whether it’s a like on Facebook or a diet that gets you that beach body in two weeks. It could be even said that the world is moving in the opposite direction of LTAD, which specifically strives for long-term benefit, but this is also one of the reasons why LTAD is so important to all of us. It can be hard to sell people a long-term idea when the result-oriented world wants an answer here and now, but that’s what makes it necessary – it’s not something you think about every day.
On the other hand, we are not here to sell an idea. It’s more of an inception. Like Leonardo DiCaprio in the eponymous movie, the person must come to the realization on its own, lest the epiphany is short-lived. It’s accepting a new tool and a new mindset at the same time. Focusing on the process instead of the end goal will make it easier to grasp such a long-term concept in this short-term world.
2. Lack of integration between education, health, sport and recreation systems
More often than we would like, school system, health system, sports clubs and recreation communities live on different islands of the same country, not yet connected by bridges. They all have similar, if slightly different goals. In their book “Long-Term Athlete Development”, Balyi, Way and Higgs propose LTAD to be a platform for these different stakeholders in their concerns about children’s inactivity.
A lot can be done on an administrative level. Let’s consider the example of Sportlyzer’s home country of Estonia. In this tiny Nordic nation, sports activity falls mostly under the category of the Ministry of Culture, physical education in schools obviously under the Ministry of Education and health system under the guidance of Ministry of Social Affairs. So who is responsible to make the youth of today move adequately? Well, all of them and neither of them.
However, since we should look at the development of a person through a holistic perspective, integration and cooperation between different institutions that all take part and have interests in this process is essential for the best possible results. For example, planning a child’s physical activity should take into account both: sports done in school and sports done in sports clubs. Tracking injuries and health obviously needs coordination between the health system and sports clubs. Acknowledging a common platform is the first step in the right direction.
3. Competition between different sports and sports clubs
The Western world has largely entered into a new period of development where growth in populations and resources has stalled or is already diminishing. For all sectors of life, it’s hard to adjust to this new standard and sport is no different. Adding the fact that more and more kids are likely to rather spend their time on their smartphones than on the playground, sports (and sports clubs) are in a difficult position where continuous growth has become something of an everyday struggle.
Every kid, every youngster and every adult is more sacred than ever before to keep the sports and sports clubs alive and sustainable. Competition between sports and among sports clubs has grown to the point where recruiting new athletes has moved from schools to kindergartens. Even in the highest levels of sport, fierce competition has lead to jokes that some elite clubs are recruiting talent straight from the mother’s womb.
All this competition, however, can hurt the implementation of LTAD. Early competition between sports leads to early specialization which can hinder development in the long run. Intense competition between sports clubs can put the goals and ambitions of the clubs on the front foot, leaving the kids just to be a tool to reach those goals. Awareness of the long-term benefits of the LTAD model is of utmost importance in here. Why should the kid still support your sport and your club in 20 years time if you didn’t take his or her development into account when it mattered the most? Again, long-term benefits outweight the short-term gains.
4. “One size fits all” approach
While the LTAD concept may itself be criticized for simplifying the training process to easy-to-digest pieces, it still very much acknowledges the differences between ages, sexes and individual potential. A huge chunk of what is being taught to kids right now has a lot to do with what the coaches themselves learned from their experience. Of course, there’s no denying the importance of first-hand experience, but the world has moved on tremendeously in the past decades so what seemed to be brilliant in the 90s, might not work today.
This is especially true when we look at different scenarios where coaches apply their knowledge. Let’s take a regular coach – a middle-aged man who coaches soccer for girls. Now he used to play soccer himself and maybe even at a reasonably high level. The best training he got was when he competed in high school, so naturally he might apply the same training to girls in middle-school, who are at a completely different stage in their development both because of age and gender.
This is not to criticize the coach. He is working with his best intentions, but he needs to be aware of the differences between his own experiences and what’s best for the kids. Long-Term Athletic Development model can give him the tools to do that.
5. Lack of knowledge, education and time
At the end of the day, a lot of what has been said can be put down to lack of knowledge and education. Of course, scientific approach to training and development is spreading further every day with the advent of the newest communication technologies and professionalization of coaching. However, a lot more can be done to implement these scientific principles on a day-to-day basis.
More often than we’d like, coaches, managers and parents have to deal with the everyday administrative process of trainings, coaching and management. Whether it’s filling out forms and papers or just working on communication and planning, it takes up a lot of valuable time that could be better put into effect when A) gathering knowledge to improve as a coach/parent/manager or B) actually applying that knowledge on a first-hand basis.
Most of the coaches, managers and sports parents are willing to do more, willing to learn more and willing to spend their time doing what’s best for the athletes. If they only had the time for it.