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Movement Experiences for Children
KIN 366
Instructor: Dr. Shannon S.D. Bredin
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The Long Term Athlete Development (LTAD) model is a sport development framework that outlines an optimal schedule of training, competition and recovery for each stage of athletic development (Athletics Canada, 2012). The general Canadian LTAD model illustrates 7 stages of development in the form of a progression beginning in childhood, towards the achievement of elite performance. (Athletics Canada, 2012) Research findings have demonstrated that particular developmental stages provide critical windows of opportunity for reaching athletic potential (Lloyd & Oliver, 2012), such that instilling a core set of motor skills early in life can foster a sense of achievement and induce a positive relationship with physical activity (Barnett et al., 2009). Ultimately, the model recognizes the importance of the physical, mental, emotional, and cognitive development of children and seeks to promote a base upon which excellence and lifelong participation in sport can be built (Canadian Sport Institute, 2014).

Exploring the Long Term Athlete Development Model


With the LTAD model, sport development schedules are designed according to critical periods of accelerated adaptation to training, which indicate the optimal time when children are ready and able to acquire fundamental sport skills (Athletics Canada, 2012).

The 7 stages are:

  1. Active Start, which involves the development of general movement skills and some organized physical activity (Canadian Sport Institute, 2014).
  2. FUNdamentals, which focuses on enhancing overall movement skills and integrating cognitive development. (Canadian Sport Institute, 2014).
  3. Learn to Train, targeting overall sport skill development and introducing mental preparation. (Canadian Sport Institute, 2014).
  4. Train to Train, which emphasizes sport-specific skill development and is a major fitness development stage. (Canadian Sport Institute, 2014).
  5. Train to Compete, which involves sport-, event-, and position-specific physical conditioning and tactical preparation. (Canadian Sport Institute, 2014).
  6. Train to Win, which targets the maintenance or improvement of physical capacities, and the further development of playing skills (Canadian Sport Institute, 2014).
  7. Active For Life, which emphasizes continued involvement in sport and physical activity (Canadian Sport Institute, 2014).

The first three stages of the LTAD model encourage physical literacy and sport for all. The following three emphasize sporting excellence, and the final stage promotes the maintenance of physical activity across the lifespan (Canadian Sport Institute, 2014).


The LTAD model recognizes the importance of physical literacy as a core component for developing the skills, knowledge, and attitudes needed in order to lead healthy, active lives (Physical Health and Education Canada, 2015). But more specifically, this model is geared towards athlete development from an early age based on the maturity level, rather than the chronological age of children (Lloyd & Oliver, 2012). In this way, it provides the opportunity for the optimal management of youth growth, development, and movement skill acquisition processes (Athletics Canada, 2012). Ultimately, the LTAD model was developed in an attempt to address the interaction between growth, maturation, and training (Lloyd & Oliver, 2012).

Key Terminology

  • Adaptation refers to “changes in the body as a result of a stimulus that induces functional and/or morphological changes in the organism.” (Athletics Canada, 2012, p. 17)
  • Critical period of development is defined as “the point in the development of a specific capacity when training has an optimal effect.” (Athletics Canada, 2012, p. 17)
  • Development is the “acquisition of behavioural competence.” (Athletics Canada, 2012, p. 17)
  • Maturation refers to “the progress towards the biologically mature state.” (Athletics Canada, 2012, p. 18)
  • Physical Literacy is defined as “the ability to perform fundamental and specialized movement skills and the knowledge, understanding and ability to analyze sport and physical activity.” (Athletics Canada, 2012, p.18)
  • Readiness refers to “the child’s level of growth, maturity, and development, which enables them to perform tasks through training and competition.” (Athletics Canada, 2012, p. 18)
  • Trainability is defined as “the responsiveness of developing individuals to the training stimulus at different stages of growth and maturation.” (Athletics Canada, 2012, p. 19)

Importance and Benefits of the LTAD Model

Expert groups have noted shortcomings within the current Canadian Sport System with regards to athlete development (Athletics Canada, 2012). It has been advised that the present emphasis on outcome and winning, instead of on process and skill development could result in early burnout, lost potential, or over-training (Athletics Canada, 2012). In this light, the LTAD framework strives to produce elite and consistent performers while also aiming to provide opportunities for all children to become healthy and active adults – a broader outcome which will benefit society (Barnett et al., 2009).

Childhood Development

Successful and positive experiences in sport from an early age, along with the acquisition of transferable sports skills will enable children to become proficient in various sports (Athletics Canada, 2012). In particular, the development of physical literacy is seen to be critical to childhood development, as research has demonstrated that, in comparison with typically-developing children, children with motor learning difficulties exhibit lower levels of physical literacy, are generally less active, and are more disruptive in school settings, particularly in physical education classes (Ford et al., 2011).

Thus, it is crucial that sport development programs such as the LTAD model be designed around critical periods of accelerated adaptation to training, particularly in the early stages of childhood development, such that children can acquire relevant movement skills early on (Athletics Canada, 2012). By enhancing physical literacy, the LTAD model can foster a lifelong involvement of individuals in physical activity and sport participation (Barnett et al., 2009), while also producing future elite athletes.

Elite Athlete Development

Concurrent to the stages of the athlete’s development, the model also provides an appropriate competition structure through which the individual can progress towards elite athleticism. (Canadian Sport Institute, 2014) Such a path of sport development from an early age in childhood is seen as particularly significant in achieving optimal athletic potential, as demonstrated by research findings indicating that children who do not develop their fundamental motor skills by the age of 12 are unlikely to reach their genetically-endowed athletic potential (Athletics Canada, 2012).

Moreover, a notable relationship between practice time and improvement in proficiency was shown to be positively correlated (Côté, Baker, & Abernethy, 2007). These findings therefore portray the significance and the possibilities facilitated by the use of the LTAD model in elite athlete development.

Extended Participation in Physical Activity

With its lifespan approach, the LTAD model encourages childhood exposure to physical activity and emphasizes physical literacy as the foundation for continued participation in sport (Physical Health and Education Canada, 2015). This model is therefore seen to be critical for promoting the lifelong involvement of individuals in physical activity (Physical Health and Education Canada, 2015).

Beyond its support for physical literacy, the model is also an inclusive framework that integrates physical education programs in the school setting with elite sport initiatives and with recreational sport opportunities in the community, which encourage greater participation in physical activity (Canadian Sport Institute, 2014). Traditionally, school-based physical education programs and recreational and elite sports had been developed and supported independently – an approach that was ultimately ineffective and costly (Canadian Sport Institute, 2014). Instead, with the LTAD model, enabling proficiency in many types of physical activity can increase the likelihood of participation in physical activity across the lifespan, and can thus improve longevity and overall quality of life beyond childhood (Barnett et al., 2009).

Practical Application of the LTAD Model for Coaches

Along the continuum of the LTAD model, the rate at which the athlete is able to develop, grow, and ultimately achieve success will be influenced by their coach’s ability to make adjustments to their particular training program (Athletics Canada, 2012).

Athlete Maturation and Rate of Development

“To be successful, an athlete development framework such as the LTAD model requires highly skilled, trained or certified coaches who understand the stages of athlete development and the various interventions that should be made.” (Canadian Sport Institute, 2014)

Generally, research has indicated that between 8 and 12 years of training are required for a talented athlete to attain the elite level (Athletics Canada, 2012). Yet this guideline can be more specifically enhanced with the complementary input of quality coaching. In using objective physiological assessment tools (such as peak height velocity and peak weight velocity), coaches can optimize the maturation time frames outlined in the LTAD model – a process which is a significant improvement over the previous use of chronological age classifications (Ford et al., 2011).

Ultimately, developing specific training, competition, and recovery protocols will also serve to emphasize the crucial health and well-being aspects of young athletes’ development (Athletics Canada, 2012).

Athlete Interest and Health

The ability of the coach to deliver the content of the LTAD model in a positive environment will enable the child’s recognition of their own progress achievements (Lloyd & Oliver, 2012). This will in turn provide them with a greater sense of perceived competence – an important determinant of well-being in child athletes (Lloyd & Oliver, 2012). This positive opportunity for development has also been shown to increase young athletes’ ability to overcome adversity and preserve a continued interest in sport (Lloyd & Oliver, 2012).

Ultimately, in aiming to develop elite-level athletes, coaches need to be aware not only of the acquisition of sport skills but also of advancing the health of children through lasting participation in sport (Côté, Baker, & Abernethy, 2007).

Reaching Full Athletic Potential

Finally, the coach is in a critical position as a determinant for maximizing the individual’s athletic potential through specialized training. Studies using various methods, including qualitative and quantitative interviews, established that a long-term commitment to high-quality training is necessary in seeking to attain elite levels of performance (Côté, Baker, & Abernethy, 2007). Children may show a talent in sport from an early age, but the long-term development program following this initial exposure will ultimately determine their achievement of peak performance (Athletics Canada, 2012).

In light of such findings, the level of education and quality of instruction received by the athlete from the coach should be viewed as critical to the success of the athlete’s long-term development program and consequent athletic potential (Lloyd & Oliver, 2012).

Potential Concerns Arising from the LTAD Model

Deliberate play has been defined as a form of sporting activity that involves early developmental physical activities that are intrinsically motivating, provide immediate gratification, and are specifically designed to maximize enjoyment (Côté, Baker, & Abernethy, 2007). In contrast, deliberate practice refers to “any training activity undertaken with the specific purpose of increasing performance; requiring cognitive and/or physical effort; and relevant to promoting positive skill development.” (Côté, Baker, & Abernethy, 2007, p. 185) The contrasting emphasis on enjoyment and structure between these two types of early childhood physical activity depicts the potential for concerns arising from the application of a long-term athlete development model in children’s early years.

Athlete Burnout

In light of the LTAD model’s early inclusion of structured activity, beginning in the very first stage of Active Start, potential risks for early athlete burnout may arise. For instance, a study on elite gymnasts demonstrated that those who specialized at younger ages experienced more negative outcomes in the form of physical injuries and less enjoyment than elite gymnasts who specialized at older ages (Côté, Baker, & Abernethy, 2007). Moreover, research has ultimately demonstrated that, at a young age, investment in activities that are high on effort and concentration and low on enjoyment could lead to dropout, and that engaging in more training activities early on could have negative implications for long-term sport participation (Côté, Baker, & Abernethy, 2007).

In contrast, research demonstrated that early deliberate play activities could be beneficial in the development of motivation to pursue intense training in a specific sport (Côté, Baker, & Abernethy, 2007). Moreover, results suggested that the flexibility and creativity that children were able to develop in deliberate play became significant factors in the development of elite athletes, particularly in team sports (Côté, Baker, & Abernethy, 2007). Yet, it was ultimately the number of hours dedicated to deliberate practice which was found to have causal distinguishing role between the attainment of varying skill levels and expertise (Côté, Baker, & Abernethy, 2007). Consequently, the required emphasis on deliberate practice in the LTAD model should be adopted with caution to prevent athlete burnout.

Current Limitations of the LTAD Model

The LTAD model offers many improvements upon previous sport development models – most prominently its targeting of developmental age processes as opposed to those based on chronological age (Lloyd & Oliver, 2012). Yet limitations to this model have also been outlined in the literature. Studies illustrated that it was in fact unclear whether, during early stages of development, the benefits of a structured training environment as suggested in the LTAD model were superior to those attained through deliberate play (Côté, Baker, & Abernethy, 2007).

Furthermore, empirical evidence is lacking with regards to the assumption that the early periods of rapid natural development are in fact critical windows of increased sensitivity to training (Lloyd & Oliver, 2012). Along these lines, research suggests that most fitness components can be trained and developed throughout the childhood years, and are not in fact limited to certain critical periods (Lloyd & Oliver, 2012). Furthermore, there is no evidence depicting any sort of hindered development as a result of failing to take advantage of these presumed “windows of opportunity” (Ford et al., 2011).


Athletics Canada. (2012). Long term athlete development. Retrieved from

Barnett, L. M., Van Beurden, E., Morgan, P. J., Brooks, L. O., & Beard, J. R. (2009). Childhood motor skill proficiency as a predictor of adolescent physical activity. Journal of Adolescent Health, 44(3), 252-259.

Canadian Sport Institute. (2014). Canadian sport for life – long-term athlete development resource paper 2.0. Retrieved from

Côté, J., Baker, J., & Abernethy, B. (2007). Practice and play in the development of sport expertise. In G. Tenenbaum & R. C. Eklund (Eds.), Handbook of sport psychology (pp. 184-202). New York, NY: Wiley.

Ford, P., De Ste Croix, M., Lloyd, R., Meyers, R., Moosavi, M., Oliver, J., Till, K., & Williams, C. (2011). The long-term athlete development model: Physiological evidence and application. Journal of sports sciences, 29(4), 389-402.

Lloyd, R. S., & Oliver, J. L. (2012). The youth physical development model: A new approach to long-term athletic development. Strength & Conditioning Journal, 34(3), 61-72.

Physical Health and Education Canada. (2015). Long term athlete development and sport. Retrieved from