Kapiti Coast's premier competitive swimming club

A shorter guide to Long Term Athlete Development (LTAD)

Richard Gordon – ASA Coaching and Talent Development Co-ordinator (Adapted by J.Winter)

Introduction

Scientific research has identified that it takes

at least

10 years, or 10,000 hours for talented athletes to achieve sporting excellence. There are no short cuts!

There are two ways in which young swimmers can improve their performance:

  • Training;
  • Growth and development.

Long Term Athlete Development (LTAD) is about achieving optimal training, competition and recovery throughout an athlete’s career, particularly in relation to the important growth and development years of young people. If a long term approach to training is not adopted there is likely to be a plateau in performance, when growth and development slows significantly, which for some swimmers, may result in their performances getting worse. At this point the short-term training approach cannot be reversed. This often leads to drop out before a swimmer has achieved close to their potential.

Reasons for LTAD

There are five clear reasons for introducing a Long term athlete development approach:

  • To establish a clear swimmer development pathway;
  • To identify gaps in the current swimmer development pathway;
  • To realign and integrate the programmes for developing swimmers and swimming in NZ;
  • To provide a planning tool, based on scientific research, for coaches and administrators.
  • To guide planning for optimal performance.

It is anticipated that the principles of LTAD will be used to review existing swimming initiatives led by the governing body and inform any future initiatives. It is hoped that all swimming providers will use LTAD in a similar way. This will enable the swimming community to pull in one direction towards achieving Swimming’s goals and targets.

Current sport system issues

The following are some general observations of sporting systems from around the world (including New Zealand):

  • Young athletes under-train, over-compete;
  • Low training to competition ratios in early years;
  • Adult competition superimposed on young athletes;
  • Adult training programmes superimposed on young athletes;
  • Male programmes superimposed on females;
  • Training in early years focuses on outcomes (winning) rather than process (optimal training);
  • Chronological age influences coaching rather than biological age;
  • The critical periods of accelerate adaptation are not fully utilized;
  • Poor training between 6-16 years of age cannot be fully corrected (athletes will never reach genetic potential – usually too much too early)
  • The best coaches are encouraged to work at elite level;
  • Coach education tends to skim the growth, development and maturation of young people;
  • Coaches, Swimmers and Parents need to be educated in LTAD principles;
  • Administrators and Officials need to be educated in LTAD principles.

Clive Rushton (Swimming New Zealand National Director of Coaching) summed up the current position with the development of New Zealand Swimming thus:

“Right now we have too many Swimmers training in too little lane space at the wrong times of day, doing the wrong type of training before puberty, which is limiting development after puberty.”

(Clive Rushton, Phone Call 2005)

LTAD framework

Long Term Athlete Development (LTAD) is a sports development framework that is based on human growth and development. In short, it is about adopting an athlete centred approach to swimming development.

All young people follow the same pattern of growth from infancy through adolescence, but there are significant individual differences in both the timing and magnitude of the changes that take place. It is however important to stress that human growth and development happens without training, however swimming training can enhance all of the changes that take place.

A number of scientists have reported that there are critical periods in the life of a young person in which the effects of training can be maximized. This has led to the notion that young people should be exposed to specific types of training during periods of rapid growth and that the types of training should change with the patterns of growth. These have been used by Dr Istvan Balyi to devise a five stage LTAD framework that has been adapted to swimming:

  • FUNdamental – basic movement literacy;
  • SwimSkills – building technique;
  • Training to Train – building the engine;
  • Training to Compete – optimizing the engine;
  • Training to Win – maximizing the engine.

Stage 1 – FUNdamental

AGE: Female: 5 to 8 years; Male 6: to 9 years.

The FUNdamental stage should be structured and fun! The emphasis is on developing basic movement literacy and fundamental movement skills. The skills to be developed are the ABCs (Agility, Balance, Coordination, Speed), RJT (Running, Jumping, Throwing), KGBs (Kinesthetic, Gliding, Buoyancy, Striking with the body) and CKs (Catching, Kicking and Striking with an implement). In order to develop basic movement literacy successfully, participation in as many sports as possibly should be encouraged.

Speed, power and endurance should be developed using FUN and games. IN addition, children should be introduced to the simple rules and ethics of sports. No Periodisation should take place but there should be well-structured programmes with proper progressions that are monitored regularly.

Stage 2 – SwimSkills: Building technique!

AGE: Female: 8 to 11 years; Male: 9 to 12 years.

During this stage young swimmers should learn how to train and develop the skills of a specific sport. There may be participation in complementary sports i.e. those sports, which use similar energy systems and movement patterns. They should also learn the basic technical/tactical skills, and ancillary capacities, including:

  • Warm up and cool down;
  • Stretching;
  • Hydration and nutrition;
  • Recovery;
  • Relaxation and focusing.

This stage coincides with peak motor coordination; therefore there should be an emphasis on skill development. Training should also include the use of ‘own body weight’ exercises; medicine ball and Swiss ball exercises as well as developing suppleness.

Although the focus is on training, competition should be used to test and refine skills. The recommended training to competition ratio is 75% to 25%. There should be single periodisation.

If a young swimmer misses this stage of development then he/she will never reach their full potential. One of the main reasons athletes plateau during the later stages of their careers is because of an over emphasis on competition instead of optimizing training during this very important stage.

Stage 3 – Training To Train: Building the Engine!

AGE: Female: 11 to 14 years; Male: 12 to 15 years.

During the Training to Compete stage, there should be an emphasis on aerobic conditioning. This is the stage where there is greater individualization of fitness and technical training. The focus should still be on training rather than competition and the training should be predominantly of high volume, low intensity workloads. It is important to emphasize that high volume, low intensity training cannot be achieved in a limited time period, and therefore the time commitment to training should increase significantly. As the volume of training increase, there is likely to be a reduction in the number of competitions undertaken. However, there should now be specific targets for each competition undertaken with a view to learning basic tactics and mental preparation. There should be either single or double periodisation of the training year.

During this stage, training should continue to develop suppleness and to include the use of ‘own body weight’ exercises; medicine ball and Swiss ball exercises. However, towards the end of this stage, preparations should be made for the development of strength, which for girls occurs at the end of this stage and for boys at the beginning of the next stage. This should include learning correct weight lifting techniques. The ancillary capacities (the knowledge base of how to warm up and warm down; how to stretch and when to stretch; how to optimize nutrition and hydration; mental preparation; regeneration; how and when to taper and peak; pre-competition, competition and post competition routines) should be established.

Similar to the previous stage, if insufficient time is devoted to this stage or it is missed, then the young swimmer will never reach their full potential.

Stage 4 – Training To Compete: Optimizing the engine!

AGE: Female: 14 to 16 years; Male: 15 to 18 years.

During the training to compete stage there should be a continued emphasis on physical conditioning with the focus on maintaining high volume workloads but with the increasing intensity. The number of competitions should be similar to the end of the previous stage but the emphasis should be on developing individual strengths and weaknesses through modeling and nurturing technical and tactical skills based around specific strokes or distances, but not both. As a result, there should be either double or triple periodisation of the training year. In addition, the ancillary capacities should be refined so they are more specific to the individual’s needs.

During this stage, training should also focus on developing maximum strength gain through the use of weights. This should be coupled with continued work on core body strength and maintaining suppleness.

Stage 5 – Training To Win: Maximizing the engine!

AGE: Female: 16 + years; Male: 18 + years.

This is the final stage of athletic preparation. The emphasis should be on specialization and performance enhancement. All of the athletes’ physical, technical, tactical, mental, and ancillary capacities should now be fully established with the focus shifting to the optimization of performance. Athletes should be trained to peak for specific competitions and major events. Therefore, all aspects of training should be individualized for specific events. There should be either double, triple or multiple periodisation depending on the events being trained for. During this stage, training should continue to develop strength, develop core body strength and maintain suppleness.

FUNdamental Swim skills Training to train Training to compete Training to win
Chronological / Biological Age Chronological/Biological Age: Male 6-9 Years Female 5-8
Years
Biological Age: Male 9-12 Years Female 8-11 Years Biological Age: Male 12-15 Years Female 11-14 Years Chronological Age: Male 15-18 Years Female 14-16 Years Chronological Age: Male 18+ Years Female 16+ Years
Development Phase Movement Literacy Skill Development Skill/Aerobic Development Competitive/Physical Development Specialization and Performance Development
Progression
Growth and Development
Considerations
Swimming Specific Skills
Periodisation
Session Numbers 2-4 3-5 4+ 5-10+ 10+
Session Length 30mins – 1hour 1hour 1 – 2hours 1.5 – 2hours 1.5 – 2 hours
Training Hours Pm pm am/pm am/pm Am/pm
Training Volume
Number of Competitions Low/for Fun and Learning 75% training to 25% competition ratio As a swimmer moves towards breakpoint volumes, the number of
competitions is likely to reduce significantly towards a maximum of 12 per
year. (A competition is defined as an event that requires alteration or
modification to a swimmers training programme. All events that include a taper
or rest from training should have clear performance targets
Maximum of 12 competitions per year. (A competition is defined
as an event that requires alteration or modification to a swimmers training
programme. All events that include a taper or rest from training should have
clear performance targets
Maximum of 12 competitions per year but depends on
specialisms. (A competition is defined as an event that requires alteration or
modification to a swimmers training programme. All events that include a taper
or rest from training should have clear performance targets set by the
coach.
Competition Profiles Sequence of 3 competitions below current level, 2 competitions
at current level, 1 competition above current level.
2 x (3 competitions below current level, 2 competitions at
current level, 1 competition above current level)
2 x (3 competitions below current level, 2 competitions at
current level, 1 competition above current level)
Competition Targets Full Training: Heat – 3% of PB/Goal Time Semi Final
– 2% of PB/Goal Time Final – 1% of Goal Time Tapered: Heat –
2% of PB Semi Final – 1% of PB Final – -1% of PB
Full Training: Heat – 3% of PB/Goal Time Semi Final
– 2% of PB/Goal Time Final – 1% of Goal Time Tapered: Heat –
2% of PB Semi Final – 1% of PB Final – -1% of PB
Full Training: Heat – 3% of PB/Goal Time Semi Final
– 2% of PB/Goal Time Final – 1% of Goal Time Tapered: Heat –
2% of PB Semi Final – 1% of PB Final – -1% of PB Between Trials and Major
International Championships, 1-2% improvement.
Competition Events 25m all strokes; 4/8/16 x 25m relays all strokes. Active Sport
Festival events or based on skills for Active Sport Local Development
Camps
Coach choice events emphasis on IM and 50m and 200m Events at lower end of Training to Train moving towards:
100/200m BF, BK, BR; 200/400IM 100 – 1500m FS 4 x 100m FS & Med
Relays
100/200m BF, BK, BR; 200/400IM 50 – 1500m FS 4 x 100m FS
& Med Relays 4 x 200 FS Relay
100/200m BF, BK, BR; 200/400IM 50 – 1500m FS 4 x 100m FS
& Med Relays 4 x 200 FS Relay
Competition Types Club Championships Intra Club Competitions Local/Mini Meets
Novice/Fun Meets
Club Championships Local Meets Open Meets (local/county)
Junior Championships
Open Meets (District/National) Regional Champs (Jnr/Snr)
National Champs (Age-Group)
Regional Champs (Youth/Snr) National Champs
(Age-Group/Youth)
National Champs (Snr) International Champs (Youth/Snr) High
Performance Competition
Coach Targets Teaching Skill Development Competitive/Training Development Competitive Development Performance
Coach Education Level 1 Development Development Performance High Performance
National