Enhancing Long Term Athlete Development

Top 10 Skills of 2025 Which You Can Get Using LTAD
Future training using LTAD methods

What is the Long-Term Athlete Development (LTAD) model?

The Long-Term Athlete Development (LTAD) model is a framework that strategizes training, competition, and recovery depending on the participants stage in their athletic development.  The LTAD model was created to help athletes understand their full potential and improve the quality of sport programmes. Through planned and progressive steps, participants of all ages can expand their minds to improve their physical performance.

One of the most important outcomes of the LTAD model is the focus on gradual improvement to develop long-term success. Rather than prioritize short-term gains, athletes who focus on development overtime are more likely to reach their full potential.

Through a seven-stage framework, the needs of the athlete are divided to match their stage of development. This helps individuals of all ages improve their quality of learning and optimize their performance. It also provides a step-by-step for coaches to develop programmes suited to the individual, rather than a blanket method for everyone. Coaches who embrace the LTAD model are more likely to train athletes who reach their full potential.

Through embracing the Long-Term Athlete Development model, athletes have increased levels of participation and higher rates of performance. All stages of athleticism are encouraged and recognized to ensure equal opportunity to every participant.

At Aimability, our mentors support coaches and parents in implementing the LTAD model into their programming. This method of coaching focuses on the development of many factors including physical literacy, specialization, trainability, gradual improvement, emotional growth, and more. To encourage a healthy attitude towards athleticism, Aimability can provide the tools, knowledge, and experience to help every athlete reach their greatest potential.

Why is LTAD Important?

The LTAD model encourages children to get involved in sport and physical activity from an early age. In recent years, youth participation in recreational sport has experienced a steep decline, with less youths engaging in team sports such as hockey, soccer, basketball, and baseball. This is concerning since physical activity – specifically in a team setting – is vital to all-round child development.

Fast-forward into adulthood, and the values that the LTAD model instill are synonymous with many soft skills that employers now consider essential in the workplace. In fact, it’s predicted that by 2025, 50% of employees in the workforce will need reskilling, due to the growing skill gap emerging with increasing technological demands. Soft skills such as active learning, critical thinking, stress tolerance, leadership, and flexibility are becoming more prominent and can be taught through recreational sport (e.g., hockey).

The relationship between participation in physical activity throughout adolescence and career success into adulthood is becoming increasingly evident. However, this skill development is only effective when done through a structured program that focuses on gradual improvement of both mind and body. For example, Canadian Sport for Life (CS4L) is a movement that links sport, education, recreation, and health to improve the quality of physical activity throughout Canada. This is done largely through the adoption of the LTAD model. With the seven-stage framework of the LTAD model, individuals are given the chance to succeed not only physically, but emotionally and professionally as well.

What Are The 7 Stages of The Long-Term Athlete Development Model (LTAD)?

1. Active Start

As the first stage of the Long-Term Athlete Development (LTAD) model, the objective of Active Start is to make physical activity an essential and enjoyable component of everyday life. It introduces athleticism into a child’s daily routine through casual play. From ages 0-6 for both males and females, this stage is the kickstart to nurturing a healthy attitude towards sport and nutrition throughout a child’s life.

Man is running as a first stage of the Long-Term Athlete Development (LTAD)
Soccer player is learning fundamentals of LTAD

2. FUNdamentals

This stage introduces the fine-tuning of motor skills through teaching the ABC’s: agility, balance, and coordination. It continues to instill the fun of everyday play and sport with an emphasis on structured movement such as running, jumping, kicking, catching, and twisting. This stage typically takes place from ages 6-9 for males and 6-8 for females. It encourages experimentation in sport while remaining fun and safe.

3. Learning to Train

This stage improves upon the ABC’s while monitoring the physical, mental, and emotional components involved with athleticism. Trainability of motor skills is very evident in this stage of learning as individual characteristics continue to develop. As gender differences become increasingly apparent during this stage, guidelines for training become more individualized as well. For males, this stage falls between the ages of 9-12 and females between 8-11.

The candidate is learning to train as a third stage of the Long-Term Athlete Development Model
The hardest part of LTAD

4. Training to Train

Of all the stages of Long Term Athlete Development (LTAD) Model, this is thought to be the most challenging and critical transition. As individuals begin to develop athletic-specific skills, their physicality is changing at a rapid rate which needs to be monitored for mental and physical health. This stage falls between the ages of 12-16 for males and 11-15 for females. Developing skills involving endurance, strength, and speed will be prioritized. With rapid growth comes the opportunity for the development of poor habits; therefore, flexibility, posture, and technique should be closely monitored.

5. Training to Compete

This stage focuses on introducing competition into the athlete’s development. Competition should be integrated in a way that encourages mental, emotional, and cognitive preparedness, as well as physical. With competition comes specialization as the athlete implements specific protocols to identify areas of strength and weakness. Between the ages of 16-18 for males and 15-17 for females, advanced motor skills become more apparent. Skills such as speed, strength, endurance, and power are optimized.

Fifth stage of long term athlete development
Athlete reached his best athlete performance because of LTAD model

6. Training to Win

In this stage, performance enhancement is prioritized and the individual graduates to become a “full-time athlete.” During this time, mental, emotional, cognitive, and physical development are monitored to support the athlete in their professional career. For both male and female athletes between the ages of 20-23, their skills are challenged while they learn the importance of healthy competition.

7. Active For Life

This final stage is often missed but is highly critical to the long-term wellbeing of an athlete. Taking place after an athlete has fully retired from their competitive career, this stage helps the individual integrate themselves into an unfamiliar way of life. This takes place at any age for both genders and provides a structure and focus to the retired athlete’s everyday life.

Final stage of the ong-Term Athlete Development model

Key Factors of Long-Term Athlete Development

The seven-stage framework of the LTAD model is structured around the following 10 factors:

1. Physical literacy

This focuses on mastering basic movement, fundamental movement skills, and foundational sport skills to support peak physical performance and long-term participation. Physical literacy is key to the LTAD model, helping individuals feel confident in their physical abilities and achieve excellence in sport.

2. Specialization

When athletes train and compete in a single sport year-round, this is considered specialization. While training at an early age (5 to7) is encouraged for future excellence, the optimal time to specialize is sport specific. For example, late specialization sports such as hockey, football, and basketball can be mastered even if specialization occurs between the ages of 12 and 15.

3. Age

Since children develop at different rates, coaches need to consider the age of the athlete for safe and effective training, competition, and recovery. When discussing age, the term includes date of birth, maturity (physical, mental, cognitive, and emotional), bone development, sport-specific training age, etc. to successfully apply the LTAD model.

4. Trainability

To create effective training and competition programs, coaches need to consider the current trainability of the athlete in relation to their current state. Body systems such as strength, speed, stamina, skill, and flexibility have sensitive periods of optimization that will affect the athlete’s performance and needs.

5. Intellectual, Emotional, and Moral Development

Children develop intellectually, emotionally, and morally at different rates. This variance in development will impact a child’s ability to make decisions and process the emotions that are integral to the sport experience. In tandem with the LTAD model, coaches must be aware of which developmental stage each child is in in order to best approach training and competition.

6. Excellence Takes Time

While some argue that talent is dependent on genetics and nurturing, it’s irrefutable that many years of practice and effective training are necessary for attaining excellence. Regardless of natural born talent, athletes must understand that elite levels of performance require determination, grit, and time.

7. Periodisation

Periodisation is time management in sports. Specifically, it ensures that the correct form of training is done at the right time, leading to improvements in training and competition. It breaks the training into days, weeks, and sessions and is situation specific.

8. Competition

In sport, competition propels action. It is the best platform to learn how to win and lose through experiential learning, which challenges one's ability to effectively manage physical, emotional, and cognitive states. Therefore, the key to successful competition relies on a coach's understanding of facilitating this learning environment and the athlete's mindset of seeking growth opportunities regardless of the result.

9. System Alignment and Integration

The “system” refers to the variety of settings and situations that athletes are exposed to when participating in sport and physical activity. The alignment of these systems allows health, education, recreation, and sport to interact; aka the four main sectors of the LTAD model.

10. Continuous Improvement

The LTAD model doesn’t end with adolescence. Instead, it’s a long-term framework that encourages continuous improvement throughout a person’s lifetime. With the ever-changing landscape of sport and athleticism, athletes need the ability to adapt and change alongside it. Without the drive to improve, the world of sport will see a decline in participation and success.

The LTPD Model For Hockey

The Long-Term Player Development (LTPD) model is specific to the sport of hockey and was developed in response to the widely supported model of Long-Term Athlete Development (LTAD). As Canada’s national sport, hockey players can benefit from the principles of both the LTPD and LTAD models, as both lead to a more successful athletic experience and professional career.

Similar to the LTAD model, the LTPD model for hockey puts the needs of the player first. It provides opportunities for children to participate in hockey that’s conducive with their age and stage of development. By adopting an individualized approach to hockey training, coaches are acknowledging that not all players develop in the same way. Coaches, parents, and administrators are encouraged to embrace both the LTAD and LTPD model for hockey to develop the best possible program for its participants.

Canadian Long-Term Athlete Development

Currently, the Canadian athletic system prioritizes winning above all else. This way of thinking and training limits athletic potential and leads to early burnout. Rather than focus on short-term gains, such as winning a match or increasing the speed of a sprint, the LTAD model prioritizes the process of skill development.

Coaching for Long-Term Athlete Development in Canada introduces athletes to the potential of their motor skills at an early age. This early form of intervention and development gives athletes the opportunity to perfect their skills prior to entering the world of competition. Not only does this result in increased levels of confidence and improved skill, but this model of coaching teaches long-term success.

At Aimability, our performance professionals and athletic mentors provide athletes, parents, and coaches with the tools to implement the LTAD model into their training. Through gradual integration, athletes can develop healthy mindsets when it comes to their aspirations and abilities. Available both in-person or online, our programs help coaches and parents develop healthy and effective goals to nurture their athletic growth.