LTAD – the Jedi method?

Long Term Athlete Development (LTAD) is a widely discussed element of sports training and whilst it is generally agreed that it is a vital component of any coaching repertoire, there is a lot of discussion and debate over the best model – if indeed there is one – and which factors are actually relevant to the individuals within the sport they partake.

Too often connotations of ‘early specialisation’ are brought up – particularly in relation to swimming – and there tends to be a desire to pay a large amount of attention to ‘building qualities’ and teaching and training young athletes ‘how to train’. And the answer seems in a lot of cases to be volume. The perception that by giving young athletes a large amount of volume will enhance their potential for long term success is limited owing to the large amount of swimmers who drop out of the sport or who have to retire early due to injury.I know full well that many coaches, managers, parents will disagree with me (and lots will agree) and continually ascertain that he way to become a world champ is to smash the yardage from an early age then refine the athlete later on. Personally I believe this is the backwards approach…


For me Long Term Development needs to be centred around participation, keeping people involved in the sport and not buying into the ideal of ‘early specialisation’ and ‘training’ kids too young. We need to look at continually and continually and a bit more continually developing and redeveloping skills, keeping training fun and engaging; paying attention to times of peak growth and adjusting around individuals through these periods. Allowing kids to do what they do best – going fast, and teaching them how they can go faster (generally all you see is kids running everywhere, as fast as they can – put them in a pool and they will race each other, any way which how – let’s embrace that and then gradually teach them how to do it properly). The key element here is teaching – I think we need more clarity over the role of a coach as a teacher first and foremost and be looking to add in the ‘coaching’ elements as the swimmers potential blossoms (N.B I know that some coaches will work age group athletes hard so that they can be the best 12 year old in the country, or win a national medal aged 14 – as nice as that may be at the time, its short term success, not long term development).

If we need any more convincing about the downside of early specialisation and getting kids to do too much too soon we need to look no further than the very sad but true story of the Jedi order. Anakin was too young to be trained as a Jedi – he was 9 years old (first stage of LTAD starts at 6 so there’s a comparison there) – and despite a small tinkling with the Dark Side he proved to be the chosen one, finally ridding the Galaxy of the Emperor… No formal training, a few (ok, a few years) 1 on 1 sessions with a master teacher and he was pretty well attuned with the ways of the force to become arguably the most powerful Jedi ever! And as for the Jedi method of training them young? None were as powerful as Anakin (though maybe a tad more subservient!!)

Roll on a few episodes and we have the guy who actually beats the most powerful form of Anakin, Darth Vader, after only commencing his specialist training as a Jedi at the tender age of 21!! Piloting, check; shooting a laser gun, check; working hard on multitude of skills and having instilled a great work ethic after years of exposure to varied activities on the moisture farm, check; huge volumes of Jedi specific training from an early age, you get my point…

Yes Im a Star Wars fan, yes the connection is a tad tongue in cheek (although I do quite often find myself paralleling my coaching ideals to the Star Wars films – maybe there’s a blog series to begin) but I am convinced that early training should be wide and varied; teaching a broad range of movement patterns and motor skills; giving young athletes the tools they need to go fast and the technique to be able to sustain speed – and then develop those qualities continually and with purpose and intent and not being afraid to teach them again how to perform an underwater kick…

Swimmers, or athletes in any sport for that matter, will at times stop taking part in that sport – if they have a broad range of skills to turn their hands to than it is hoped they may pursue a different activity and at least you know you have given these youngsters an ability to choose their next path. That I can cope with, its the giving up of all activity and becoming lost to the sport because of being ‘burnt out’ before their 18th birthday that is a harder fate to swallow…

May the force be with you…. always!



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