Canadian Sport for Life Society releases Long Term Development 3.0

The latest edition of the Sport for Life Society's landmark resource recognizes sport and physical activity as "powerful agents for developing individuals and society as a whole."

I was a practicing academic when I first became aware of the Long Term Athlete Development model (LTAD) created by a group then known as Canadian Sport for Life. I was intrigued by how the authors were able to clearly describe the process of how a kid becomes an athlete. Anyone involved in sport knows that a lot of what passes for knowledge in this area is often based in tradition or coaching lore, and which frequently has little basis in fact. The LTAD model attempted to answer questions about how children grow, how they acquire sport skills, and how specific attributes like strength, speed, and coordination develop. They presented science without being pedantic; anyone truly interested in understanding the material could do it with just a little bit of effort.

But the model did more than merely outline how athletes grow and develop. It also added the concept of physical literacy to the mix, and described important functions of governance related to clubs and national governing bodies when it came to program design, policy, and delivery.

I want to encourage my readers to download the Long Term Development in Sport and Physical Activity 3.0 document, the latest edition. It may inform your own coaching or administration of youth programs.

If you're not familiar with the document or the Sport for Life Society I'm sure you will find the material interesting and thought provoking. You will also find a lot of familiar things presented in ways both unique and obvious. It presents a comprehensive look at what the youth sport years should be like if the goal is to offer quality and effective youth sport programs.

The document helps practitioners understand the rationale behind typical coaching and administrative practices. Youth sport practitioners often deliver programs in the same way they experienced them or in the way they've seen them offered elsewhere, in collegiate and professional sports, for example. This romantic understanding of what the sport experience is about is partly to blame for the professionalization that has gradually crept into the youth sport culture. The Long Term Development model offers coaches, clubs, and national governing bodies a conceptual framework for their program design, training, and competitive structures that are appropriate for young athletes.

Since its first edition in 2005 the model has gone through several revisions. At first it addressed the sport development aspects of concern to national governing bodies, clubs, and coaches. The newest revision recognizes that not all youngsters who join youth sport activities are interested in following the competitive pathway. It describes strategies for retaining youth in programs so that they can live active and healthy lives while also providing for those interested in podium performance.

The document presents a much larger scope of what's possible within youth sport programs, why they're beneficial to individuals, and how they're valuable to the community.

Those familiar with previous editions will immediately recognize several changes. The 10 Key Factors, for example, are now 22 Factors, and the early- and late-specialization categories have been expanded based on the nature of the skills involved and/or when athletes usually reach peak performance in their sport.

The 10 Key Factors from the original LTAD model are now 22 with an emphasis on three fundamental areas:

  • Personal factors offer tips that parents and coaches should consider when conducting programs for youngsters.
  • Organizational factors include best practices for clubs, communities, and governing bodies to use when delivering youth sport programs.
  • Systemic factors are those that address the big picture of sport within a country and how various sport bodies can collaborate to improve the entire youth sport culture.

Expanding to 22 factors seems a bit perfectionist; this is the only reservation I have with the latest revision. One familiar with the original 10 factors will see the latest revision as both an expansion of scope and a refining of method. However, practitioners exposed to the model for the first time might be a bit overwhelmed by 22 factors affecting sport development. This is a case where keeping it simple might have been a better idea.

Sport types have been expanded from the original early- and late-specialization categories to grouping sports by skill type and when athletes usually reach peak performance:

  • In High acrobatic activities like diving, figure skating, and gymnastics, the skills themselves are the sport. Peak performance in these activities can occur in an athlete's mid-teen years, thus early specialization is appropriate.
  • High kinesthetic activities like swimming, soccer, and racquet sports require an earlier start so that youngsters can develop a feel for the skills involved. Peak performance occurs in the late teens and early 20s.
  • Common activities require normal specialization with peak performance expected in the late-20s or early-30s. Most sports fit into this category.
  • Late specialization sports are those where peak performance occurs in the mid-30s like triathlon and rowing.
  • Transfer activities are those where athletes generally don't take part until late adolescence and usually after participating in other sports. The document gives bobsleigh as an example.

These new categories clarify the need for specialization based on sport requirements if one is aiming for podium performance. But as I've suggested previously, early specialization is now a result of social and economic factors rather than sport related requirements. However, the above categories make it clear that most sports do not need early specialization in order for athletes to reach their potential.

The revised document is clearly Canadian in focus, but the framework presented is easily adaptable to almost any country's foundational programs. So whether you're actively involved in sport development or not, the newly revised Long Term Development 3.0 will provide you with some thought provoking ideas and more than a few discussion starters.