"The Coach must also understand the proper amount of emphasis that must be placed on training, psychological development, skill development, nutrition and restoration, for the misplacement of emphasis will also fail to yield optimal results."
- Bob Takano, Weightlifting Programming: A Winning Coaches Guide
LTAD. Why do coaches have to love their gosh dang acronyms so much? While relatively new, and definitely not a household acronym, the movement this acronym stands for is one that I think many parents and coaches could benefit from understanding:
Long Term Athletic Development.
It's cool, it's buzzy, and with the increasing number of young athletes specifying in one sport at younger and younger ages, there are aspects of this movement that athletes of all ages can benefit from. So why is Long Term Athletic Development (LTAD) so important?
Everyone loves to praise the statistics from the Superbowl games and NFL draft of how many of the athletes played multiple high school sports. I'll admit, I loved reposting those articles as well, because I was a multi-sport athlete for so long and I know how well rounded it made me. The difficult thing with those statistics is that they try to make it seem like all multi-sport athletes make better athletes when they do specify. There is some truth to this, and some fault to it.
First, great athletes in a single sport are just gifted in ways that others aren't. For the number of professional athletes who played multiple high school sports and excelled at them, there is likely an equal number of athletes who specified at a young age who would dominate at any
other given sport. There's a genetic talent pool that one can dive into with this topic, but just because an athlete played multiple sports, does not mean that they're a better athlete than the one who specified early.
What playing multiple sports does do, however, is create a huge amount of exposure to diverse playing situations, decision making strategies, and training methods. This is where general athleticism is built and turned concrete. This development is what LTAD was born out of.
There are certain athletic qualities that are common adaptations to general sport demands. The great thing is that we can actually train this in a controlled, safe setting without having to play multiple sports. The weight room/training facility can be a means to develop athletic qualities that will benefit an athlete whose specifying in sport at an early age.
Things such as balance, coordination, proprioception (body awareness), relative and absolute strength, and decision making are all qualities that high levels athletes display, and can be trained in a controlled setting. Now, don't take this as me saying that it's fine to only play one sport your whole life, but I want to point out where some gaps can be bridged through guided training which can help create that dominant athleticism.
The difficulty with writing about a topic like this, is how it can perceived by parents, causing them to go overboard on training for their athlete. Or, on the reverse side, when a coach takes the time to develop these athletic qualities, parents don't understand the importance of learning rolls, jumps, tumbling, crawls, and games. With access to the internet, everyone sees the training the pros are doing, and so of course that training is perfect for their 10 year old (please note sarcasm). The needs of a young athlete are far different from that of a professional, and this starts with the basic athletic abilities such as rolling, crawling, jumping, landing, balancing, and managing their own body weight. These are things that often happen naturally in other sports, but are also very well taught in a training environment and will benefit an athlete throughout their career.
And while this is part of the solution, Long Term Athletic Development is just now making advancements as the need for it rises. There is lot's that good Strength and Conditioning coaches agree on, and things that they don't. Some coaches consider one skill or movement to be basic, while another may think that it isn't necessary. The great thing is that nothing is necessarily wrong, as long it doesn't injure or do harm to the athlete. A good structure and good coaching, regardless of the system will produce great results.