What is Long Term Athlete Development? (LTAD)

Did you know that there is actually science behind how to develop children physically to become athletic?  For 25 years science, research and experience all point to the same thing: kids and adults will get active, stay active, and even reach the greatest heights of sport achievement if they do the right things at the right times. This applies to any sport, with some having early specialization and some having late.  Each stage has important goals, objectives and areas to concentrate on to ensure safe, effective, and age specific development.  The Canadian Sport system has invested significant time into understanding how to develop athletes properly and it is outlines on the website https://sportforlife.ca/. In fact, there are specific development strategies for pretty well every sport in Canada developed by scientists and the respective National Sport Governing Body (e.g.  Volleyball Canada). These are listed on the website as well.


The five “S’s” of trainability in children include:

  • Stamina
  • Strength
  • Speed
  • Skill
  • Suppleness ( flexibility)


As a child progresses through the maturity process, there are very specific stages of development that happen that helps them become “athletic”.  These is significant evidence that “early specialization” in a sport or rushing the stages can limit development of the child and their athletic skills.   It is also important to understand that children mature at different rates, and while the stages mention athlete age, they are really talking about “developmental age”.  Some athletes may progress slower or quicker at a various level.


  • There are seven stages within the basic LTAD model:
    • Stage 1: Active Start (0-6 years)  Foundation of development of fundamental movement skills and physical literacy
    • Stage 2: FUNdamental (girls 6-8, boys 6-9) Fun and Agility, Balance, Coordination and Speed, Movement Skills
    • Stage 3: Learn to Train (girls 8-11, boys 9-12) Golden age of learning skill, Physical Literacy, learning a variety of sports skills and different sports
    • Stage 4: Train to Train (girls 11-15, boys 12-16) Basic sports skills and tactics, major fitness development stage, progression from local to provincial sport and end of stage
    • Stage 5: Train to Compete (girls 15-21, boys 16-23) Competition becomes serious, year-round training begins, (physical, technical-tactical, mental and emotional). Dedication to 1or 2 sports to ‘compete”.
    • Stage 6: Train to Win (girls 18+, boys 19+) Full time athletes, maximize performance, now competing at national or international level
    • Stage 7: Active for Life (any age participant) Goal for Canadians, all people active and enjoying sport.


It takes 10-15 years, and over 10,000 hours to develop an athlete to competitive in most sports. This is not achieved by age 9!   Each stage has different ratio`s of practice and competition, with the early stages having significantly more practice than games, and later competitive stages building in recovery to maximize performance at the elite level. Training of all physical skills requires…… Introduce the skill, develop the skill, and refine the skill…….repeat.  Each step is important.  Most athlete’s do not make it past the Train to Compete phase for multiple reasons including different interests, lack of opportunity, or a change in passion.   However if young athletes develop the skills it has been show that they often will stay active and healthy for life!