LTAD: Training to compete
This is the third of several articles that examine the various stages of the LTAD model. The Train to Train stage was covered in a previous article.
As athletes become proficient at the Train to Compete stage of the LTAD model several substantive changes are taking place in their development. Training time increases and athletes are involved in year-round situations and competing in higher level contests near or at the national level. The focus of training is on the highest level of participation available, usually international competition, and all training elements lead in that direction.
The long-term athlete development model (LTAD) features progressively comprehensive training and increased challenges as athletes become more involved in the process. What starts out as an introduction to physical activity gradually changes into a single-minded pursuit of excellence at the training to compete level. One can see where a focus on this intense outcome would be inappropriate at lower levels of development, however, at the Train to Compete stage the intensified focus is wholly appropriate for the athletes skills and aspirations.
Characteristics of the train to compete stage
Athletes are encouraged to focus on a single sport or sports that complement each other - Multi-sport participation is encouraged at lower levels of the LTAD model but by the time one reaches the train to compete stage all efforts should lead in a single direction. By this time a single sport that the athlete is both proficient in and enjoys should have become apparent and is the activity that should be pursued to the highest level. In some cases athletes are able to continue a focus on complementary activities, wrestling and weight lifting for example, until a single focus is needed by training and competitive demands.
Learn to perform increasingly complex skills in intensely competitive environments - As the name of this stage suggests competing is a skill that needs to be learned and trained for. With a solid foundation of skill and training from previous LTAD stages the athlete is now ready to focus on improving competitive performance. Adapting to varying competitive conditions is an important part of this stage.
Athletes commit to both their training and performance - The athlete is almost full-time involved in athletic preparation. In some countries they may be at the professional level but for many they are in a group of elite performers the size of which depends on the size and quality of developmental programs in their sport.
Athletes train with quality resources, trainers, and other high performers - It almost goes without saying that to perform well in this stage athletes need access to facilities, coaches, and support services to maintain their training and performance.
Implementation of the LTAD framework
Canadian Sport for Life, the developers and original proponents of the LTAD framework, refer to the train to compete stage as 'optimizing the engine' expanding on the 'building the engine' theme from the train to train stage. Athletes do this not only through physical training but also through mental and emotional strategies as well. As part of the LTAD framework the Train to Compete stage comes just before the highest stage, Training to Win.
As mentioned in our overview of the LTAD framework the entire LTAD structure is a periodization model for an athlete's career. Learning movement, then skills, followed by developing a foundation for training are the basic stages of the process. Later, and Train to Compete is part of the later stages, athletes refine and optimize athleticism; learning to perform consistently at the edge of their ability. The point of the framework is to present a developmental model of how youngsters actually become athletes.
Many see the framework as an administrative tool for associations or a training guide for coaches. Certainly it is these things but it is also much more when considered in terms of sport culture and how a country approaches athlete development overall. For many countries, including Malaysia, the LTAD framework highlights what's missing and where weaknesses in the sport development system may be found.
Malaysia has highly developed later LTAD stages. The Training to Compete and Training to Win stages are supported by experts in all areas needed for high performance. Athletes are given the best training conditions, good facilities, sport medicine expertise, and training and competitive opportunities.
Where Malaysia falls short is in the lower stages. Few sports have any kind of sustainable or consistent developmental programs, club system, effective governance, or adequate data systems. This aspect of sport development was discussed in a previous article that highlighted the preparation gap between athletes at the highest level of Malaysian sport and those just starting out.
The lower LTAD stages are either missing or weak. Athletes still rise to the top of the sport hierarchy though since high performance sport is relative to the country rather than some absolute level of performance. Athletes at the top of Malaysian sport now are the best the country has. With better implementation of the LTAD framework at the lower levels of each sport future Malaysian athletes will be better prepared for the higher levels and thus ultimately better athletes.