LTAD the golden way


sportingworldblockAs the year turns, I would like to take this opportunity to offer greetings and well-wishes for 2016 to all our readers, and congratulations to all the athletes and teams that prospered in 2015. And here’s to hoping that many more do better in 2016!

In particular, special mention should be made of our boxing, in which nine gold medals were copped by the 15-member squad travelling to Guyana in November, as well as three of the six individual awards on offer; water polo for snatching silver as the U14s competed in their first international competition; hockey in which the ladies, after silver in September and qualification for the 2017 Pan American Cup, went on to the Olympic Test Event and dominated to Barbados hockey’s first international gold in the sport; and finally volleyball where the Junior women took the silver at home, and the men became the first team to defend the title successfully at the Caribbean Junior Volleyball Championships.

With the Olympics almost upon us in this edition of Sporting World I decided to take a look at what produces great athletes. Without a doubt, it comes down to one thing which can be simply summed up: “Short-term planning may lead to short-term success, but almost always leads to long-term failure.”

This analogy changed my whole concept and approach to coaching and athlete development.

Notwithstanding that, in Barbados, and the Caribbean at large, we seem to be able to produce remarkable athletes who have reached the very pinnacle of their chosen disciplines.

However, I assure you that on closer inspection, these individuals have been at it from a very young age, unknowingly applying the concepts and stratagems of long-term athlete development (LTAD). As daunting as the term may sound, it isn’t convoluted with lots of science and/or high-tech training programmes. It is rather simply at its core an implementation of culture change towards athlete development and a very structured approach to pathways for athletes, their coaches and administrators.

Developed by Dr Istvan Balyi, it almost can be described as a mirror of the education system that sets clear stepping stones for progression. This allows athletes, coaches and administrators alike to understand where they are, what’s next, and most importantly what’s required for progression to the next level.

This is also very important because in this framework individuals can clearly choose which pathways and which levels suit them and their particular circumstances.

Once established the tip of the spear, the high-performance international athletes, benefit most.

LTAD, therefore, is conceptually a framework that takes largely into account how young people develop sporting ability and more specifically how that interrelates with their physical and psychological growth. This is further augmented by the application of Malcolm Gladwell’s 10,000-hour rule, which is based on the premise “10,000 hours of ‘deliberate practice’ are needed to become world-class”.

With this base, LTAD becomes a means of implementing an integrated approach to development that can both ensure all athletes are able to achieve their full potential, as well as foster long-term participation.

This approach can be used irrespective of sporting discipline, and can be altered to fit the needs and difference from sport to sport and culture to culture. With its main focus being on periodization of training it allows for a high degree of customization, therefore allowing it to be implemented from the national level across all sporting discipline to the sport specific model that would require a more in-depth process of consultation with the target groups to realize the full.

The periodization model most prominently allows coaches to take advantages of identifiable stages during a child’s physical and psychological development that offer optimum opportunities to develop core competencies, like basic movement skills, basic sport skills and individual physical attributes. Commonly, when we miss these stages, even with attention to remedial development, the athlete’s aptitude to reach their full sporting potential has already been grossly affected.

It is heartening that everywhere I look around the elements of LTAD are being implemented.

Volleyball, for instance, has implemented consistency throughout gender-based programmes as Andrew Bratwaithe, while primarily the coach of the senior team, is attached to both the junior and youth programmes.

Football has widened their focus taking on cross-training aspects through dancing classes that coach Thomas Jordan added to his programme to continue developing his young charges’ timing and agility.

These are just two of the many instances where national teams and their associations have started to implement small fragments of LTAD, and almost in every instance have seen immediate measured successes.

I encourage coaches, associations and the larger oversight sporting bodies to do their research, planning, consultations and implement some form of long-term athlete development, and continue to reap the rewards of overwhelming natural talent now augmented by structured pathways and a road map to success!

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