Everyone wants their kid to be the next Tiger Woods, Katie Ledecky, or LeBron James, but do you understand what phases are necessary in the development of the youth athlete? In America, we believe we have to become specialized at a young age. Does a youth athlete playing baseball really need a full time pitching coach at 8 years old? In my opinion, no. Specializing at a young age has many unintended negative outcomes that should be considered: burnout, increased injuries, and early peaking in the sport. Research shows that kids who play multiple sports have a longer career trajectory, experience fewer injuries, and peak at the right time. This model is called the Long Term Athletic Development (LTAD) model. It has been proven time and time again to be the best way to develop the youth athlete.
Long Term Development
Long Term Athletic Development starts with ages 0 to (if lucky enough) professional. Maybe you’ve heard about the 10,000 hour rule to gain mastery from Malcolm Gladwell. The way to get to 10,000 hours of mastery in athletics is to play multiple sports. This method will develop the muscular and central nervous system in multiple ways that will enhance the athlete’s performance in his or her sport.
Let’s look in more detail at the phases of LTAD by Istvan Balyi:
- Active Start (Age 0-6): Introduce motor skill and element of play; activity should range from 30-60 minutes
- FUNdamentals (Age 6-9): Introduce sport movement, structured sports, and FUN environment; teach movement skills; activity should range from 30-60 minutes
- Learn to Train (Males Age 9-12, Females Age 8-11): Structure training 2 times a week from 45-60 minutes and 3-5 times per week of sport activities
- Training to Train (Males Age 12-16, Females Age 11-15) Focus needs to be on Speed, Agility, Strength, Endurance; The athlete needs to continue to play multiple sports. Structured training should be 3-4 times per week for 1-1.5 hours
- Train to Compete (Males Age 16-18, Females Age 15-18) Focus should be on a specific sport while still playing multiple sports as well as still developing athleticism; structure training 4 workouts per week for 1-2 hours
- Learn to Compete (Ages 18-22) Focus needs to be sport-specific; develop competition strategies; athlete should peak a few times a year; structured training 4-5 times per week
- Compete to Win (Ages 23+) Focus needs to be on winning and competition; athlete should peak a few times a year; structured training 6-7 sessions per week
Athletic development is crucial for long term success. The best athletes play two or more sports until the age of 15 to 16. The LTAD model works, but you must believe in it and not get caught up in short term success. Be patient and don’t rush athletic development! Remember: early participation, but late specialization. Play, have fun, and excel.
Win The Day!