Raising a child to be athletic doesn’t necessarily mean developing a future Olympian or grooming them for a future athletic scholarship, it simply means teaching them the joy of play and creating healthy, active habits. With too many kids glued to video game screens or mobile devices, an approach called Long-Term Athlete Development (LTAD) strives to help children acquire athletic skills and life-long active habits.

The LTAD Model

Popularized by internationally recognized coach/educator Dr. Istvan Balyi, the LTAD model was originally developed in the early 2000s based on scientific research on how young people develop athletic ability. The term athlete ranges from a recreational player to a professional athlete. The 7-stage framework guides the participation, training, competition and recovery pathways in sport and physical activity from childhood to adulthood through developmentally appropriate training and competition that boost participation and performance.

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The LTAD philosophy believes that early sport should be all-inclusive, non-competitive, and fun; there are developmental windows of opportunity to develop athletic skills; and sports are classified as early and late specialization activities and suggests that specializing too early in a late specialization sport may be harmful.

The model is not without controversy. Opponents of LTAD assert that competition is healthy for children and the suggestion that missed windows of opportunity leaves many children and late bloomers behind as they fail to develop athletic habits. Finally, the specialization versus generalization debate is ongoing, with evidence supporting both ends of the spectrum

While the theoretical LTAD model is interesting, the bottom line is simple  keep children active! When they engage with sports, children learn important life lessons that help them develop healthy lifestyles as adults. The early exposure to taking care of their bodies, nutrition, and activity allows children to develop healthy habits that will last a lifetime.

Authored by Zach Meeker, Research Assistant for Midwest Orthopaedics at Rush University Medical Center

Reference: Ellerton, H. (2019). What is the LTAD model and should you be using it? Human Kinetics.

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