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LTAD, Youth Resistance Training, and Early Sport Specialization: What It All Means

Rhodri S. Lloyd, lead author of the LTAD Position Statement, provides an abbreviated look at what long-term athletic development is and how strength and conditioning professionals can implement effective training strategies into programming to improve health, well-being, and growth.

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It is acknowledged that children are not ‘miniature adults’ due to a range of physiological and psychosocial differences. Practitioners should recognize that both children and adolescents will experience fluctuations in developmental rates of growth and physical fitness, and will also show variations in degrees of psychosocial maturation.

These fluctuations in development will likely impact on the way a child or adolescent responds to a training stimulus, while also impacting on an individual’s relative risk of injury. Training programs should be designed on an individual basis wherever possible, and this is particularly important for youth due to the highly individualized nature of growth and development.

While training prescription may vary amongst youth, one thing that is certain is that youth of all ages and abilities should be encouraged to develop physical fitness from early childhood.

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The quest of developing ‘athleticism’, or becoming ‘athletic’ should not only be reserved for young athletes, but rather should be a primary objective for all youth. During the childhood years, children should be encouraged to adopt a sampling approach to development and should avoid specializing in year-round training in a single sport. This is due to emerging concerns surrounding early sport specialization and the associated increased risk of injury, potential ‘blunting’ of motor skills, increased risk of dropout from sport, and the non-guaranteed achievement of elite level performance.

While children and adolescents should follow a multidimensional training program that targets both health- and skill-related fitness components, practitioners should first seek to develop fundamental motor skills and foundational muscular strength, using integrated neuromuscular training (e.g. strength training, plyometrics, speed and agility training).

Developing a range of motor skills and muscular strength qualities should enable youth to move proficiently in a variety of environments, but also be sufficiently robust to withstand the physical demands of sports and recreational physical activity. Importantly, while the development of athleticism is merited in youth in order to improve physical fitness, it is also crucial to reduce the relative risk of injury in competitive sports, recreational physical activity or free play.

It is imperative that those responsible for the development of youth (e.g. strength and conditioning coaches, technical sports coaches, parents, teacher) ensure that health and well-being remain the central tenet of long-term athletic development programs.

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From a physical perspective, practitioners should never prescribe a child or adolescent inappropriate training, for example; excessive intensities, extreme volumes and/or insufficient rest and recovery. Similarly, from a psychosocial viewpoint, practitioners should ensure that training remains challenging yet fun in order to develop confidence, self-motivation and resilience in youth.

Practitioners should systematically progress and individualize training programs for youth, and where possible use relevant monitoring and assessment tools to optimize the development of physical fitness and avoid the risks of overtraining. Specifically, growth rates, measures of physical performance and psychosocial well-being should all be tracked over time using the most valid and reliable techniques available to safeguard youth.

While an understanding of pediatric exercise science and training prescription are essential, the art of coaching youth is of critical importance. Strong groundings in pedagogy and coaching skills are a necessity for practitioners to be able to translate science into practice, and effectively communicate and interact with youth of all ages and abilities. While more research is required within the field of long-term athletic development, it is clear that all youth should be provided with the opportunity to engage in long-term individualized training programs within a fun and motivational training environment, that encourages a lifetime engagement with sports and physical activity.

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