by Rick Howard, MEd, CSCS,*D, USAW
NSCA Coach June 2017
Vol 4, Issue 4
Long-term athletic development (LTAD) provides a framework for youth coaches to create developmentally-appropriate strength and conditioning programs (6). LTAD addresses the needs of children (approximately ages 11 in girls and 13 in boys) and adolescents (approximately ages 12 – 18 in girls and 14 – 18 in boys), collectively referred to as youth (7). LTAD also addresses key differences in maturity, such as the difference between biological age (age since birth) and maturational age (a combination of cognitive, social, and motor skills, which collectively define athletic readiness) so that all fitness attributes can be trained throughout childhood and adolescence while athletic (sport) readiness is fostered (6,8,11). The central tenet of the National Strength and Conditioning Association (NSCA) 10 pillars of LTAD is that the health and well-being of youth is of critical importance (6). One of the greatest challenges facing coaches is creating safe and effective strength and conditioning programs based on the 10 pillars (6):
LTAD pathways should accommodate for the highly individualized and non-linear nature of the growth and development of youth.
Youth of all ages, abilities, and aspirations should engage in LTAD programs that promote both physical fitness and psychosocial wellbeing.
All youth should be encouraged to enhance physical fitness from early childhood, with a primary focus on motor skill and muscular strength development.
LTAD pathways should encourage an early sampling approach for youth that promotes and enhances a broad range of motor skills.
Health and wellbeing of the child should always be the central tenet of LTAD programs.
Youth should participate in physical conditioning that helps reduce the risk of injury to ensure their on-going participation in LTAD programs.
LTAD programs should provide all youth with a range of training modes to enhance both health- and skill-related components of fitness.
Practitioners should use relevant monitoring and assessment tools as part of a LTAD strategy.
Practitioners working with youth should systematically progress and individualize training programs for successful LTAD.
Qualified professionals and sound pedagogical approaches are fundamental to the success of LTAD programs.
Using the following themes of the NSCA Position Statement on LTAD to guide the process (6):
Health and well-being is the central tenet.
Health-fitness and skill-fitness both must be developed.
Motor skills competence and muscle strength development are mandatory.
Movement quality must always be evaluated and addressed.
Performance increases and injury risk reduction are key elements of all programs.
The following represents an innovative approach that was used to implement an LTAD program in a health club, and includes the steps used for implementation.
1. Invited all kids to participate in a fitness program to improve their sports performance: Youngsters are acutely aware that fitness and sports participation are positively related (10). We provided the participants, parents, and sports coaches with information on the benefits of an LTAD approach. This included a flyer on the benefits of participating in youth sports (including better grades in school, better fitness and health, and greater self-esteem) and the NSCA LTAD online article for parents, which outlined the potential outcomes of improved performance and reduced risk of injury (1,9). From questions asked by parents and coaches, we were given the opportunity to provide an integrative neuromuscular fitness program to address health-fitness, skills-fitness, and motor skill abilities and decrements to kids that participated in sports camps throughout the year (4). A basic movement program using animal movement from different countries formed the foundation for 7 – 9 year-olds, and a games/ fitness approach was used to help develop fundamental movement skills for 10 – 16 year-olds. Sport-relevant combine testing was conducted to establish baselines for sport camp program design (along with specific sport performance goals). For example, youth tennis players participated in a battery of tests including the spider test, which has shown to be a reliable test for youth tennis players (5). The spider test (also called the spider drill) measures tennis-relevant movement speed and agility from the center mark of the baseline to the athlete’s left singles sideline and back, athlete’s left corner of the service line and singles sideline and back, center of the service line and back, athlete’s right corner of the service line and back, and athlete’s right singles sideline and back. Other tennis-relevant tests included a medicine ball side toss (left and right), 20-m dash, vertical jump, broad jump, tennis shuffle test (from center service line to doubles service line, to the opposite doubles service line, then back to center service line), and the Apley test (left and right).
2. Engaged kids in the process of using the fitness center: Several children and adolescents were asked what they thought the fitness center program should look like and what it should be called. Several had already participated in a golf initiative for golf etiquette, putting skills, and driving accuracy. They came up with the name “Beast Badge.” They recommended that the program contain both a knowledge and skills component distinguished by age, with the skill component being competency performing the exercise rather than the number of repetitions or amount of weight lifted. The Beast Badge was divided into two groups: 10 – 11 year-olds and 12 – 15 year-olds, which matched the membership age categories for the club.
3. Created the program to align with the 10 pillars of LTAD: A program was created that assessed all kids equally. The first component was the etiquette and rules of using the fitness facility. The second component was the “ABCs of movement” (i.e., athletic stance, body awareness, and cardinal planes of movement), from which all other movements are derived (3). All movements were incorporated into both the sport camp model and the fitness center model.
4. Incorporated health-fitness and skills-fitness movements: At this point, three sequential levels of the Beast Badge were created for use in the fitness center, and reinforced during sport camps:
a. Level 1 included strength movements in all three planes, and health-fitness and skills-fitness movements to create a circuit-style program of nine exercises. The circuit included bodyweight exercises, bands, kettlebells, and medicine balls.
b. Level 2 included nine additional movements, explained why fitness is important, and discussed how to check for proper technique of workout buddies.
c. Level 3 included instruction for all equipment in the fitness center and the basics of program design, including sport-relevant exercises.
To illustrate, the checklist for Level 1 lunges was:
Stand with feet hip-width apart with a dumbbell in each hand and keep arms at the side of the body.
While maintaining an upright torso, step forward with one leg (about 3 – 4 ft).
Bend at the knee and lower the body until the back knee almost touches the ground. The forward knee should not pass beyond the toes. Both knees should make a 90-degree angle.
Push up and back off of the front foot to return to the start position.
Repeat with the other leg.
Aspiring “Beasts” were asked questions either related to exercise technique (e.g., “what distance apart should your feet be when starting the lunge?” or “what is the name of the exercise where you step forward with one leg and bend at the knees toward the floor?”) or fitness center rules (e.g., “what do you do with your weights after you complete an exercise?”). Participants were asked five questions and had an opportunity to adjust their technique or answer until correct.
5. Recognition: All junior members that completed a level of the Beast Badge received a wrist band that identified which level and which age group. The band read “Certified Beast.” The wrist band needed to be worn in the fitness center at all times. Parents received a copy of the Beast Badge packet that informed them what each “Beast” was able to do, when they may use the fitness center, and under what conditions (10 – 11-year-olds must be accompanied by a parent and 12 – 15-year-olds can use the fitness center on their own).
There were several lessons learned in the pilot stage of the Beast Badge and summer camp program:
Junior members earned their Beast Badge in the club’s fitness center, which included a variety of cardiovascular equipment, selectorized machines, suspension training, dumbbells, kettlebells, medicine balls, ladders, bands, and plyometric boxes. No modifications of equipment were needed, as “Beasts” were instructed that if they did not fit any piece of equipment, they would be shown proper use once they could fit in the equipment correctly. Junior members could obtain their Beast Badge in an individual session or in groups. A nationally-certified strength coach worked directly with youth for every session and adults were present in the fitness center (parents were encouraged to attend). The awareness by adult members that the youth were learning how to properly train was overwhelmingly positive. Integrating fitness into all areas of the fitness center was an effective strategy for both kids and adults. The overall goal was for the “Beasts” to build their movement vocabulary using a variety of equipment, as suggested by Faigenbaum and Myer (2). One lesson learned was to provide more movements initially in the Level 1 program and then build on those movements. The second lesson learned was to encourage parents even more to observe or be in the facility while the youngsters were training.
The facilities for the summer camps were most often the indoor tennis courts, which provided plenty of space for different movements, games, and resistance training activities. From tug-of-war and light tire flips to kettlebell challenges and agility drills within the tennis court, summer camp athletes learned how much fun exercise could be and that there was something for everyone. We conducted a trial tennis combine towards the end of the summer to serve as a baseline. One lesson learned was to plan to re-evaluate every season, track the test data, and begin to track attendance data. The second lesson learned was to provide sport-relevant combine-type testing for a variety of sports for both youth and adults. The third lesson learned was recognizing that not every coach understands how to best train youth, so more professional development in this area is needed.
The next phase includes several impactful components to increase the success of the program:
Expand the innovative LTAD programming with increased opportunities to participate. Targeting ages 6 – 9 beyond sport camp is a priority for establishing an interest in fitness, promoting the positive relationship between fitness and sports participation, and developing lifelong healthy habits.
Fitness competitions/combines for all age groups are being scheduled for the winter and summer, and will include a process (technique) and product (peer-matched performance standards) assessment for each movement.
Additional sport camp opportunities that meet more regularly (most sessions are twice a week for 30-min each) are being advocated.
Engaging “Beasts” to help lead instruction for those seeking their Beast Badge is being implemented (peer-topeer training).
Staff development for the coaching staff that includes best practices for coaching the youth population.
As always, information on LTAD, safe and effective training techniques for youth, sport performance strategies, and lifelong performance are shared with parents, coaches, and youth.
This article originally appeared in NSCA Coach, a quarterly publication for NSCA Members that provides valuable takeaways for every level of strength and conditioning coach. You can find scientifically based articles specific to a wide variety of your athletes’ needs with Nutrition, Programming, and Youth columns. Read more articles from NSCA Coach »
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