What is Long Term Athlete Development?

Canadians researched the work effort needed to become an olympic or world champion found that more than 10.000 hours of training were needed to become competitive at that level from the age of ten till twenty. Based on the finding a model was developed that describes the different development cycles over those ten years. The Long Term Athlete Development Program was born.

For some sports an earlier specialization is required and the development is different. This is also the case for female athletes. The early preparation for rugby (U10) is very general: running around, throwing stuff, hitting things, what we used to call "Playing" but we now need to totally involved in.

The Long Term Athlete Development (LTAD) strategy describes the needed development on elements like:

  • tactical
  • mental
  • physiological / technical

This model is now used by many sports organization across the world. I am into it because of my involvement with the Dutch rugby union. We are setting up talent development centers in the Netherlands and use the model to describe what needs to be done with the players. The National Olympic Committee who is controlling all sports in the Netherlands is helped us to make the model rugby specific. I found a version of the model on the Irish Rugby Union web site, this is the start of our work. The RFU version is more in the details of things, it will start you of with the profiling aspects of the development phases. You can download these models in the free download section.

Why is such a model important?

  • It is a sort of baseline to describe the different stages of development.
  • It helps us understand the different roles of the coach: for example the Rugby Guide for the youngsters.
  • Clubs and club coaches can use it to make their development plan.
  • It will be a communication tool between Academy coaches and Club coaches.

I believe in the model but want to make the tactical aspect the priority, placing the Why before the How. I believe we start to focus on technique too soon, we should start with an understanding of the game first. This will motivate players to work on his skills later. In this line of thinking: we also start to fix players in positions much too soon (pigeonholing).

The development stages (for rugby) and the role of the coach are:


Guides Elementary movement, basics, having FUN (why is that not possible later on?) Multi-skills and Multi-sports approach.
Learning to train Teaches Building the basic rugbyplayer: start with the head (give them an understanding of the "Why" before the "How".
Training to train Challenges Building the potential rugby specific core skills
Training to compete Facilitates Optimizing the potential rugby positional and unit skills, continuing development of core skills and position-specific skills.
Training to win Empower Maximizing the potential (where did we heard that before...SAQ?)

Retain, recruit, retrain

Retainer Keep people involved in the sport of rugby for the rest of their lives

Click on the links in the table to learn more on the role of the rugbycoach in the  different LTAD Stages.

Relevant topics:

  • Check a Canadian website on more background information on the model.
  • The Free Download section with the various implementations of the LTAD model.