Long Term Athlete Development: Part 1

Welcome to our two part series on LTAD. The global trend in athletic development is moving toward the LTAD model. Many countries such as Canada, Great Britain, Australia, and Ireland have adopted LTAD models in their physical education curriculums as well as in their sports national governing bodies. The United States is slowly coming around to the concept of adopting LTAD into national programs. This two part series will deal with two major questions: What is LTAD? and How can LTAD models benefit Christian school athletics?

What is LTAD?

LTAD stands for Long Term Athlete Development. The term first surfaced in an official capacity when Dr. Istvan Balyi organized and produced the LTAD model in his book, Long-Term Athlete Development. Balyi designed the basic framework of the LTAD model based off research indicating that it takes eight to twelve years for an athlete to reach elite levels in his sport.

His research produces two major benefits to sports:

  •  a structured framework for systematized elite athletic development.
  •  participants in programs that follow Balyi’s principles and guidelines are more likely to develop proper lifetime fitness habits.

The goal of Balyi’s LTAD model is to develop athletes to their fullest potential.


Windows of Opportunity

Balyi introduced different stages of development referred to as “windows of opportunity.” These six stages can be seen on the chart below.


Balyi assigned ideal ages to each stage or window. However, as Kieran Foy pointed out in his article “LTAD, “windows of opportunity” athlete development,”

Individual differences in height and weight growth rates (probably related to genetics) are always at play… [LTAD] doesn’t account for individual difference in physical development or retention of motor and physical skills.”

Regardless of the exact age of the athlete when entering each stage. Balyi’s LTAD model presents a good sequential process by which to educate and train athletes from adolescence to adulthood.


Movement is Foundational

Balyi’s LTAD focuses on training Fundamental Movement Skills (FMS) while athletes are very young. The mastery of FMS then provides a foundation for acquisition of Fundamental Sport Skills (FSS).

As athletes progress through FMS and FSS training, they begin to enter the phase of Building Physical and Mental Capability. All of this eventually leads to what Balyi calls, “High Performance Sport.”

Specialization does not occur in Balyi’s LTAD model until the middle of the Building Physical and Mental Capability phase. LTAD is a slow progression from early athletic involvement to sport specialization to elite competition.


Global Shift

Countries that follow Balyi’s LTAD model have seen recent improvement in their talent identification and athlete development.

Programs in the United States, however, are not as receptive to the LTAD model. American culture is obsessed with winning.

LTAD values skills development over competition. American players, parents, and coaches tend to value immediate results. Balyi calls this the “peak by Friday” mentality.

There are numerous damaging aspects to the “peak by Friday” mentality. Because of this, many experts are calling for a “culture shift” in our country concerning youth sports and athlete development. Balyi’s Long Term Athletic Development model is the vehicle that drives that “culture shift.”


Now that we know what LTAD is, plan to join us for part two of this series in our next post. LTAD: Part 2 will discuss how we can apply LTAD models to our Christian school sports programs. We will also examine the benefits that can come from LTAD models in Christian education.


What do you think about LTAD? Do you have any experience with it?

Jeff is the athletic director at Victory Baptist Academy. He is also the founder and administrator of TheAthleticDirectors.com.

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

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2 thoughts on “Long Term Athlete Development: Part 1

  1. This is so needed in our schools. We are so focused on the moment before us – winning the game, etc., that we lose sight of long term development. I look forward to part 2!