Long-Term Athletic Development

Updated: Aug 29, 2019

by Ryan Muñoz, M.S., C.S.C.S.

MAD Summer (May-August) injury numbers

MAD athletes: 60

MAD games/competitions: 373

MAD injuries : 0

In the past few decades we’ve seen the industry of youth sports grow greatly. This growing trend of participation in youth sports will continue as club sports have become increasingly popular. At the heart of this growth is the concept of long-term athletic development. That is helping young athletes of all ages realize their full athletic potential and put the individual on a path to commit to a life-long healthy and active lifestyle. This is a youth centered approach to physical activity and development. LTAD is focused on meeting the needs of children at any developmental level to promote fun, positive sports and fitness experience which in turn help set the foundation for a lifetime commitment to healthy activities.

Rick Howard, a leading expert in the field of LTAD has 9 key concepts that all parents should know regarding LTAD:

1. LTAD is a guideline, not an absolute mandate. Children do not all develop at the same rate and not always in a positive direction, so adjustments must be made based on their individual development to get the best results.

2. LTAD promotes multisport participation, youth health and wellbeing, and positive youth development. LTAD is more than a model of youth sports participation—LTAD promotes development of the whole child with the child at the center and sports participation as the key.

3. LTAD needs to begin in early childhood to give youth the greatest opportunity for success. The concept of physical literacy, which helps youngsters value and take personal responsibility for their participation, may be necessary so that youth reach an appropriate level of proficiency. Think of it like subjects in school - the later students learn the basic concepts, the more difficult it is to master the subject.

4. All fitness attributes are trainable across childhood (ages 6-11 or 12) and adolescence (ages 11 or 12 through 17). Health fitness attributes (aerobic endurance, muscle strength, muscle endurance, flexibility) as well as skills fitness (agility, balance, coordination, power, speed) all are safe to train under proper supervision with a developmentally appropriate progressed program design.

5. Many organizations now stand behind the major underpinnings of LTAD. Organizations such as the National Strength and Conditioning Association, the International Olympic Committee, the United States Olympic Committee and their National Governing Bodies have issued materials espousing the benefits of LTAD.

6. The age of youth (biological age) is not always the best determinant of sport readiness. Sport readiness considers the complex interaction of the biological, social, physical, physiological and psychological domains for performance. Each domain does not necessarily develop at the same rate as the others.

7. Youth sports programs should focus on talent development throughout childhood and adolescence. Not all youth develop at the same rate. Some are “early maturers” who are most often selected at younger ages, but may burn out or suffer overuse injuries. “Late maturers,” on the other hand, if not given continued opportunity to improve, will never develop to their potential.

8. The misconception still exists that youth should not strength train. Strength training is safe and effective for youth and should be properly integrated into a sports participation program.

There are 10 Pillars of LTAD:

LTAD pathways should accommodate for the highly individualized and non-linear of the growth and development of youth.

Youth of all ages, abilities, and aspirations should engage in LTAD activities that promote physical fitness and psychosocial well being.

All youth should be encouraged to enhance physical fitness from early childhood, with a primary focus on motor skill and muscular strength development.

Long-term athletic development pathways should encourage an early sampling approach for youth that promotes and enhances a broad range of motor skills.

Health and wellbeing of the child should always be the central tenet of LTAD programs.

Youth should participate in physical conditioning that helps reduce the risk of injury to ensure their ongoing participation in LTAD programs.

LTAD programs should provide all youth with range of training modes to enhance both health and skill related components of fitness.

Practitioners should use relevant monitoring and assessment tools as part of long-term physical development strategies.

Practitioners working with youth should systematically progress and individualized training programs for successful LTAD.

Qualified professionals and sound pedagogical approaches are fundamental to the success of LTAD programs.

National Strength and Conditioning Association’s position statement on LTAD :

“There has recently been a growing interest in long-term athletic development for youth. Because of their unique physical, psychological, and social differences, children and adolescents should engage in appropriately prescribed exercise programs that promote physical development to prevent injury and enhance fitness behaviors that can be retained later in life. Irrespective of whether a child is involved in organized sport or engages in recreational physical activity, there remains a need to adopt a structured, logical, and evidence-based approach to the long-term development of athleticism. This is of particular importance considering the alarmingly high number of youth who fail to meet global physical activity recommendations and consequently present with negative health profiles. However, appropriate exercise prescription is also crucial for those young athletes who are physically underprepared and at risk of overuse injury because of high volumes of competition and an absence of preparatory conditioning. Whether the child accumulates insufficient or excessive amounts of exercise, or falls somewhere between these opposing ends of the spectrum, it is generally accepted that the young bodies of modern day youth are often ill-prepared to tolerate the rigors of sports or physical activity. All youth should engage in regular physical activity and thus should be viewed as “athletes” and afforded the opportunity to enhance athleticism in an individualized, holistic, and child-centered manner.”

LTAD within MAD

LTAD at MAD begins with the evaluation and screening process. Regardless of age, all MAD athletes provide background and health history prior to participation in training. From there an evaluation is done. The evaluation varies in length pending on the athletes age, with younger athletes participation in less demanding evaluation than their older counterparts. The evaluation tells the story of the athletes body and give us the framework for the athletes program. From there, an individualized program is made for each athlete, with set re-evaluation or testing dates planned. From there the tenets of LTAD are visible in every MAD training session. We believe in a holistic, proactive approach to an athletes health. This start with a breathe and be mental centering before every session. The brain powers the nervous system, and breathe is often forgotten basic essential function of life. We want to teach our athletes the habit of getting mentally locked in at a young age. MAD uses a wide variety of training techniques to expose our athletes to different movements and pathways in a safe and controlled environment, so their bodies are prepared physically when they encounter similar scenarios on the court or the real world. In that sense we believe in a proactive approach to health care. The stronger a body is the more resistant it is to injury. Whether it’s trunk stability, balance, sprinting and plyometric training, olympic variations, yoga/stretching, everything in MAD training program serves a specific purpose. With the ultimate goal of keeping our athletes healthy and performing at their best. The idea is to create these healthy habits at a young age to encourage participation in sport/physical wellness throughout the lifespan.

Youth Sports injury numbers

Estimated 27 million youth in USA participate in team sports

National Safe Kids Campaign estimates more than 3.5 million children are injured annually playing sports or participating in recreational activity.

Overall estimates of overuse injuries vs. acute injuries range from 46%-54% (DeFiori, 2014)

Overuse injuries occur due to repetitive submaximal loading of the musculoskeletal system when rest is not adequate to all for structural adaptations to take place. Injury may involve the muscle-tendon unit, bone, articular cartilage, physis, bursa, and or neurovasular structures (Rae, 2007)

Acute injury is a result of specific impact or a traumatic event to one region of the body such as muscle, bone, or joint.

Benefits of youth strength training (LTAD)

Increase strength, injury prevention, injury rehab, enhance long-term health and improve sports performance

Preseason strength and conditioning programs can reduce injury rates in youth athletes

Pre-practice neuromuscular training can reduce lower extremity injuries

Regular resistance training improves bone health and body composition and may reduce sport related injuries

TONS of evidence supporting the safety of resistance training in youth and pediatric populations WHEN PROPERLY SUPERVISED.

MAD Summer (May-August) injury numbers

MAD athletes: 60

MAD games/competitions: 373

MAD injuries : 0