Long Term Athlete Development (LTAD)

You may have seen this on our website or in our social media posts and not known what it means. In short, LTAD is:


Anyone who has children or is responsible for children’s development should read this blog very carefully.

At the end of last year, we launched our LTAD membership. It was a membership that included a group supervised session with a post-graduate qualified coach with a wealth of experience in training youth combined with a self-directed session, where a participant performed a program at Hammer which was developed by a Hammer coach. Our goal was to include the self-directed session as part of the process in order to teach the young athletes some disciple and self-reliance.

This was a real success as we watched our young athletes’ progress in leaps and bounds, working on the basic planes of movement namely the squat, hinge, lunge, vertical press and pull, horizontal press and pull and carry.

We had such a diverse range of young athletes from rugby players, cyclists, sprinters, football players and even archers. Our biggest belief for these athletes is to get them moving well and then lifting heavy. We shouldn’t get scared with children and lifting heavy as lifting heavy is relative, with each young athlete will performing lifts according to their capacity, not their ego. It takes everyone different times to progress and we addressed progress as a measure of competency, not time.

(If I can digress at this point to knock something on the head – jumping off a playground produces more force than what most of our weight’s sessions will ever produce. So, to quash this ridiculous myth that kids shouldn’t be doing resistance training; if that is the case, then children shouldn’t be doing anything active…ever.)

We witnessed a huge improvement when we retested our young athletes, including increases in power, strength and movement efficiency (determined through video analysis). Most of these athletes were in their off-season or the preseason for their respective sports, placing them in great shape for their upcoming season.

Notwithstanding the positive results we witnessed, the constant battle facilities like ourselves will continue to have is the point at which school and club sports seasons commence and the importance of winning trumps athlete development. Competing priorities between club and school can result in detrimental outcomes, including non-selection in teams in circumstances when an athlete simply cannot navigate those priorities. These competing interests place parents and more worryingly, young athletes, in unenviable positions where they might sacrifice long term development at the cost of appeasing coaches in the short term.

Numerous opposing modes of training, combined with a desire to placate other interested parties,  is a contributing factor to the 10-fold increase in injuries in children under 20 since 2008 (see below), with the rise attributable to the multitudes of training output without proper regard to correct periodisation and athlete welfare.

(Shaw, Finch, 2005)

It appears that schools these days invest in amazing facilities with qualified coaches while concurrently reducing the amount of qualified support staff to help their heads of high performance. This, in turn, leaves too many young athletes training unsupervised or doubling up on training without telling their coaches. For example, there are way too many instances of a child training in the gym in the morning for their club or friends and then backing up and doing the same muscle groups in the afternoon without saying a word.

Blame for any negative outcomes is not attributable to the schools, clubs or parents – it is the system as a whole which is at fault and for the benefit of the young athlete’s welfare, it must change. There appears to be a misguided focus on a coach’s performance, even at the young athlete level, as coaches are hired and fired on results, despite the fact that they are not coaching professional teams. As a result, the problem we are now seeing is that coaches of young athletes focussing on immediate results, not long term development of the athletes in their charge.

Additionally, it appears that there are too many unqualified or self-absorbed coaches who use the tension around the competing interests of clubs and schools as a threat to leave children out of teams, denying them the opportunity to compete and develop. How this is beneficial to anyone is beyond me.

How do we change this? Well without complete support from each stakeholder, there won’t be any beneficial change. Training at Hammer provides a constant, an external facility independent of the competing tensions, which provides coaches, parents and children with confidence in, and reliance on, our tutelage when decisions are to be made regarding training parameters.

I am not an advocate in celebrating mediocrity, nor do I believe that merely ‘having a go’ is a goal worth striving for. What I do believe in is that development of tactical, technical and physical capacities is paramount and that can be achieved whether an athlete is winning or losing. In framing loss as an opportunity to measure individual key performance indicators, this allows a young athlete to focus on progression without focussing on the final result. This is even more pertinent considering that children develop at completely different stages and in some instances, no matter how hard you play, a more developed child (or group of children) will mostly prevail. If there is a considered focus on capacity improvement, then the following seasons and years will bear the fruits of that effort.

At Hammer, we have progressed our student-athletes carefully, providing constant feedback and an open dialogue with each young athlete to reflect on what they have done that day, that weekend and how they are feeling as a result. As a result, we have designed a wellness and load monitoring software specific to the young athletes, allowing us to monitor progress and fatigue levels. However, we have been cautious with it roll-out, believing that young athletes lack of exposure to such a system demands a considered approach in its full implementation. However, the implementation has hit the roadblock of scheduling, with young athletes training and school commitments now impeding our efforts. As a result, we find that our involvement is the first casualty in the scheduling wars.

While we cannot compete with the entities that require mandatory attendance, what we offer is a reliable source of information and a stable training platform, providing the change and innovation required to progress a young athlete in a controlled manner. We provide the individual focus not afforded to young athletes in school or club programs, allowing them to progress in their respective sport while teaching preventative techniques and measures before any bad habits form.

In short, we believe in our staff and expertise to provide consistent and long-term results for your child, cutting through the myriad of competing interests and allowing for measurable, positive outcomes.

By Matt Ham

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