Updated: Apr 13, 2021
Early long term athlete development (LTAD) is a systematic approach that guides a person’s mental and physical growth throughout their early athletic lifetime to provide them with the greatest opportunity to achieve their highest sport potential.
These steps may start at a young age for most children and can be crucial for the development of various qualities such as motor development, coordination, speed, strength and conditioning. The Journal of Sport Science stated:
One of the most important periods of motor development for children is between the ages of nine to twelve. During this time children are develop-mentally ready to acquire general overall sports skills that are the cornerstones of all athletic development.(1)
With this approach one can start to break down periods in a child's development to understand and specify the stages at which they should be working on certain skills and efficiencies.
During a person's life there is a distinction between chronological age (the passage of time in years) and physical developmental age
(how their body has developed). For example, if you take a look at a grade 6 class they may all be the same chronological age of 12 years old. However, you could have one child whose physical developmental age is further along and they measure a foot taller than their classmates with an additional 50 pounds of weight. This child will have a different LTAD approach than another child who has not yet hit this physical developmental age.
There has been extensive research and studies conducted on certain “windows” that children experience at different points of their development. These windows are certain age ranges where they should try to develop a specific quality (for example: motor development, coordination, speed, strength and conditioning). One should capitalize the opportunities provided by these windows by either specific training or by playing certain sports conducive to those qualities associated with that window.
While the answer will vary depending on whom you ask about how young a child should begin specific training it is generally accepted that performing body weight and technique based training is perfectly fine for most children with a chronological age of 6 or older.
It is however generally accepted and encouraged that children between the ages of 6 to 8 years old should perform more play-based activity, whether organized or unorganized, rather than specific training.
After the age of 8, it is important for children to experience and engage in a wide variety of sports. This provides ample opportunities to hit multiple qualities while still engaging the child in play-based activity and will prevent burn out from, for example, loss of interest.
It is important to note that there is no concrete evidence that failure to exploit these “windows” of opportunity with appropriate training would result in inhibited development or that the athlete would experience a “ceiling” effect on their potential performance.(2)
Discussions regarding LATD are constantly evolving due to newer research and various perspectives on how to properly develop an athlete over the course of their life. Despite these competing perspectives, it stays constant that children should try to play as many sports as they can for as long as they can.
Multisport athletes are more likely to advance and succeed in their athletic careers and find more joy in them.
(1)Balyi, I., et al, 2004, Long-term athlete development: Trainability in childhood and adolescence. Windows of opportunity and optimal trainability. Longtermathletedevelopment.com
(2)Ford, P., et al, Oct. 2010, The Long-term athlete development model: Physiological evidence and application, The Journal of Sport Science, Pg. 389-402. Jan. 2011