3 BIG reasons why our early LTAD programmes, didn’t make it to the long term!

3 BIG reasons why our early long term athlete development programmes, didn’t make it to the long term!


Long Term Athlete Development is a phrase we hear a lot now.

It’s certainly a phrase I’ve used a lot for the past 8 years, but when I really reflect on the early days of running what we were calling LTAD/Youth S&C programmes, they didn’t make it to the point where they could really be called long term, for a number of reasons.

#1 People didn’t understand S&C / LTAD programmes

People were less aware of S&C back in 2008, what the high level/elite guys were doing was not as visible on social media platforms and there were less people engaged in strength and conditioning. When it came to working with younger athletes I much more frequently encountered the traditional ‘myths’ from concerned parents – “Isn’t that dangerous?” and “Will it stunt their growth?. At times we simply did not get the parental buy-in required to convince them to invest in a long-term programme, so our contact with the athlete may only have been 8 to 10 weeks, limiting the progress that could be made.

#2 Competition with sport-specific training schedules

Getting a regular time slot with a talented athlete in their weekday evenings can be nearly impossible, especially when they perceive their sports-specific training to be the be all and end all of their development.

That evening time slot between 4-7pm was chaotic for most of the teenage boys and girls – it could be any of the following that would need to be negotiated around: schools clubs and fixtures, local clubs and fixtures and representative (e.g. district/county/regional) training and fixtures.

As much as I tried and educate parents and athletes of the value or S&C as well as rest and recovery the pressure to be involved in all the training sessions and games was huge from all the different parties.

The result was less consistency on the physical development process, less progress, working around a great number of injuries or having athletes arriving completely fried at sessions limiting what we could do.

3# I got it wrong!

Something I’ve learnt from my time teaching at school, is that sometimes when something goes wrong in a lesson it can quite often be down to you NOT the pupil or athlete.

When I look back at my involvement in these LTAD programmes and the battle to engage athletes and parents for the long haul, I’m certain I got it wrong, not them. Even though at the time I was couldn’t understand why they didn’t want to train.
The bottom line is, whilst my programmes were effective they didn’t do a lot to excite or enthuse the younger athlete or I hadn’t done a good enough job of helping athletes to understand what we were going to do; why we were doing it, how it was relevant to them and how it was going to help them.

Fortunately, I learnt from my mistakes and I’ve now managed to build a much more successful LTAD programme. So what did I change?

Painting the BIG picture

I began taking more time to educate the athletes and engage with the parents to explain the different stages of our LTAD systems and the relevance of the different aspects of the programme, in a way they could understand and relate to has been a big step forward in improving engagement in our programme. We also tailor our focus points to the recipient of the message.

Rather than talking to kids about the long-term health of their spine as they maintain their neutral spine, I save that conversation for the parents to explain why it’s safe for their daughter to be squatting more than her Dad. Also, we always relate back to the big picture of where similar movements/positions occur in their sports and how the exercise will help them perform better.

Another important part of the big picture is understanding what I call Point B. For each key physical variable – strength, power, speed and agility we paint a clear picture of where they need to get to and what they need to do to get there.

Introducing A Games Based Approach

For me there’s an art to making sessions ‘fun’ and ensuring it’s still achieving some of your important outcomes. What I’ve come to appreciate over the years is that whilst I love pure S&C and getting super geeky about the technical intricacies of squatting, cleaning and snatching, kids often do not!

What I have introduced over the last few years is a game based element to my programmes (especially with the youngest groups) around a foundation of strength work. For example, this week alone our athletes have played tag games, speed games, chase games, relay races and even tackled this Ninja Warrior course:

Whilst on face value it may appear that we are just having fun, the games/play elements are selected because they challenge certain movement patterns in an open environment or a different physical or skill related quality that we aren’t getting from our foundation strength work.

The Impact

The impact of implementing these changes, along with a few others, has been huge. What it has enabled us to do is achieve a much higher level of engagement from the athletes in the programme. At the school I am based at now we have in the region of 120 athletes training regularly each week. With this greater consistency have come better results in the key physical performance elements: strength, power, speed and agility. With better results and the data to evidence it we’ve seen even further engagement and interest in the training process from athletes and their parents.

James will be presenting on his approach to ‘Building An Athletic Foundation’ at the Child to Champion: LTAD Conference on the 9th and 10th April in Gloucester. Where leaders from the field of S&C, including Dr. Mike Young, Dr. Rhodri Lloyd, Dr. Ian Jeffreys and Dr. Neill Potts, are also coming together to present tried and tested systems and training methods that have been successfully applied at all stages of the developmental continuum from primary school right through to the elite international level. Find out more here!