Aug 31

Long Term Athlete Development: The Solution or the Problem? – Part II

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It has been said that we need coaches – great coaches that is! They should be highly qualified, offering knowledge about physical preparation, possess technical knowledge, knowledge about psychology of performance, child maturation process, and the socio-emotional behaviour of children. This aspect is not included in most LTD models; nonetheless, it is critical for the overall development of young athletes, and should therefore be a priority. But that is currently not the case.  

A common philosophy exists among coaches to imitate the Professional model whereby children are treated as ‘miniature athletes’ motivated by a ‘win at all cost’ attitude. Eager parents often support this approach because they actually are convinced that their children play sports to win. Who likes a loser or second best? Having access to quality coaching is actually more important than these theoretical models, and should be discussed before anything else in this process. Further, the question rises: Who should coach? How do we develop quality coaches? The approach used by a coach may have more to do with long-term athletic success than any physical training method because the correct training methods elicit more positive physiological responses, while the wrong coaching approach can make the athlete lose interest, confidence, and enjoyment of the sport. Getting this wrong renders LTAD models useless. The appropriate coach will proceed differently at each stage of maturation of the athlete. Therefore, there really is no single simple solution.













Reference: Schloder, M. M. (2017). Lecture Series “Parents in Sport.”

  • The term “youth” refers to any athlete under the age of 18 years  
  • The process of athlete development begins at a very young age and continues until at least 18 years old.
  • So it’s important to understand each stage of maturation.
  • Athletes continue to develop past 18 years, but the process changes dramatically at that time.
  • Great training and coaching are absolutely essential to the process of athletic development.  

If indeed we are truly interested in developing great athletes we have to look at the overall picture, address physical, psychological, emotional, and social aspects, and include everyone involved in the development of the athlete – coaches, trainers, other experts, and parents. Ample material is available through the IYCA organization (International Youth Conditioning Association), which provides in-depth information on strength development, speed & agility training, flexibility/ mobility, conditioning and even skill development. Coaches should be working in cooperation with these professionals because injury rates are on the rise in children and youth sports. Injuries and lack of rest are among the many confidence killers in youth sports, says Dr. Shawn Worthy, professor and clinical psychologist at the Metropolitan State University of Denver, and specialist in sports and adolescent psychology. Coaches often are not educated at all or not enough on injury prevention and recovery. Experts state that overuse injuries presently range from 37% to 68% depending on the sport. Injuries occur due to overload and incorrect technique over a longer period of time (bad habits/technical flaws persist). For example, swimmers train a lot – in the water, in the weight room, on land, plus additional cross-training. They are therefore especially prone to overuse musculoskeletal injuries, especially shoulder injuries found even in younger swimmers as early as 12 years of age. The incidence rate of knee injuries appears to be between 12.9% and 27%, though it is difficult to be certain, as many of reported studies involve small numbers of participant.

The correct and educated coaching approach, however, has the potential to increase self-efficacy and passion in athletes, and can assist in establishing positive traits such as work ethic, perseverance, coach-ability, and a healthy outlook toward the sport. These positive traits and feelings may be the keys to enduring through tough training, and usual ‘ups and downs’ associated with sport.

Typically, young athletes and parents don’t even know the type of coach that would be the ‘right fit’ or if that coach is even available. Frequently, coaches don’t meet the athlete until being introduced before the child’s first practice. How do parents know he/she is the ‘right fit?’ More often, they realize this when it is too late and the damage has been done. Frequently, parents go by hearsay or the coach’s reputation of having produced ‘top’ athletes. However, producing an elite athlete versus developing a young athlete is different. The importance of the most suitable coach at the right time cannot be overstated. Moreover, the one coaching 8 year olds may not be the same or suited for 18-year old athletes, and the coach for one athlete may not be the very same for all athletes. For example, a young soccer player can be on a terrific path of development from age 8 to 14 years until a poor coach absolutely ruins the career path. It can happen when athletes change clubs, move into a different age group, or have a coach who is simply a ‘bad fit.’ This has the potential to affect their passion and interest, decrease confidence and/or force them to quit the sport altogether. Anyone involved in sports has seen this happen over the years.

Youth coaches have an enormous role in whether or not that a child’s passion persists. They need to be both positive, effective, and focus on skill development and physical literacy. They need to balance FUN and skill development in practices, competitions, and games.











Reference: Schloder, M. M. (2017). Lecture Series “Parents in Sport.”

This can be a very delicate balancing act as factors such as stature, enjoyment, and fundamental movement skills (FMS) are crucial in developing proficiency and competency. If parents assist by exposing the child in developing FMS early in the child’s life, and provide positive exposure to sport make it possible to have the child excel early on, and have greater early enjoyment of sports. Coaches need to recognize the importance of establishing passion by making sports enjoyable and productive because the most important goal should be the child’s desire to return for another season. This provides longevity in the sport system and allows the child to make more thriving progress.  

Coaches who place a high value on winning too early can stifle the developmental process by having athlete focus on external stuff that usually limits long-term success. Often, coaches have their favourites by pushing certain athletes to excel (often their own child), while relegating others to less-important roles on the team. While this may work for some athletes, it can also impart negative effects on the overall development. Foremost, the favourite child may develop false confidence through early success, and he/she may not learn to develop necessary work ethics to achieve and maintain such success. Other children may feel less confidence and end up quitting because the sport just isn’t FUN any longer.

Moreover, high-quality coaches often feel compelled to work with older, more developed athletes because society deems that to be a more successful involvement. Certainly, some coaches are simply better-suited to work with older athletes, but the great youth coach has the potential to be one of the most influential figures in a child’s life. Exposure early in life to bad coaching could have easily derailed the careers of such great athletes as Hockey’s Wayne Gretzky, Basketball’s Magic Johnson, or Soccer Idol Lionel Messi.  

If we are truly looking to develop great athletes through the long-term process, we have to encourage great coaches to spend time with younger athletes. This means they need to engage in working with younger athletes, knowing that the payoff may not occur for many years. I left Elite coaching to teach/coach younger children and youth athletes because I strongly believe that more experienced coaches are needed at the fundamental level because of the expertise in the field. Likewise, my role was to mentor younger coaches in my system, and help them along in their development to becoming better coaches – one variable that seems to be overlooked in any existing model! How does one develop coaches…by osmosis? A continuum has to be established on a national basis to train coaches in the fundamentals of coaching science, and then implement mentorship, no matter the sport.  

Coordination is needed

It seems that LTD is much more complex than just using training methods at various stages points in the maturation process of athletes. Of course, great training and sport coaching is necessary. Nonetheless, it is apparent that other critical factors have to come together in a coordinated effort if we are truly looking for optimal development and great sporting experiences, not just great training. We have created situations whereby little interaction takes place with other sources. Parents, sports coaches, and strength & conditioning specialists seem to be working independently. This creates a lack of continuity for young athletes. For example, sports coaches don’t know about training occurring outside of the sport practices, and or potential injuries. There may be little input on the number of days or duration of outside practices. Parents often have no knowledge of the type of training that is best for the child; they simply drop the child off, hoping that the coach is ‘doing the right thing.’ And regrettably, many adults seem to believe that their way is the best approach.


  1. The entire youth sports system seems to be in disarray because it has become more about career building and parents’ ambitions over positive athletic development of the children.
  2. Numerous websites have been created and presentations have been given on this topic. The US Olympic Committee is currently supporting paediatric sports psychologists to help young athletes deal with the stress of youth sports and to help coaches and parents to handle the challenges.
  3. Most parents simply don’t know or have the expertise to handle the concept of overall development. Therefore, guidance and leadership is needed.
  4. Sport coaches usually have great knowledge of a given sport but lack the knowledge in the area of complete athlete development.
  5. Many strength coaches are aware of the needs, but don’t have enough influence over the process because they are not involved until later in an athlete’s career or simply want to remain on the outside.
  6. In order to fix the system, a much more coordinated approach has to be taken. Someone has to take leadership to intervene and propose operative changes.

The Missing Links

  1. Quality coaches are needed
  2. Coaches best suited for specific age groups need to identified, trained and mentored
  3. Present training methods and traditional competition formats or classifications based on chronological age need to be replaced through the developmental age approach – which is ideal but poses problems of implementation due to individual assessment, lack of trained personnel to carry out these tests, and potential cost involved
  4. It is time for strength & conditioning professionals to step up and become more involved as LTA coordinators, and take a more active role in the education of coaches and parents.
  5. We need highly qualified professionals, who can effectively communicate in order to create positive sport experiences.
  6. We need to work within the current structure of youth sports by educating parents and coaches, and dismiss personal egos.
  7. We need to spend time teaching parents and coaches about fundamental motor skills, skill acquisition, strength and speed development, and all-around athletic development rather than early specialization.
  8. Without organized and unified coordination, the present status remains in a state of uncertainty. On the other hand, there is a great opportunity to influence a system from within, and make changes needed for long-term success. We need to act NOW.
  9. As many s Elementary schools nationwide have basically abandoned physical activities unified coordination is needed with the call for quality programs from Elementary grades 1-6.
  10. It is important that children during those years continue to improve basic fundamental skills and enhance their physical literacy in quality physical education programs. TV advertisement about overweight, obesity, and lack of physical engagement are useless if schools do not step up to the challenge and civic responsibility to keep children and youth health and fit and competent in physical skills.
  11. In addition, quality coaches are essential for grades 7-12 (Middle-to-High school) – not volunteer teachers assigned without adequate training and expertise. If LTD is designed as Active for Life – how are children and youth stay motivated to do so if the process remains exclusively part of the Elementary curriculum and then is abandoned because now we play varsity sports – if one makes the team – while the rest of student population is idle?
  12. Schools need to connect and communicate with outside sports clubs  for sharing resources, teacher/coach training, and Talent identification. For example, I was identified through school to try out for swimming and athletics.
  13. We recommended earlier the collaboration between professionals, other experts, coaches and parents. We need to include the cooperation of schools in order to close the loop of missing links.

Personally, I believe that the last statements (#10 through #13) are urgent but also present the biggest challenge because the establishment is comfortable in the status quo – unless the federal government and respective agencies (Secretary of Health and Human Resources), and the Secretary of Sport (position has yet to be created) set out to launch mandates nationwide. It was done successfully in 1960 under President J. F. Kennedy.


Kielbaso, J. (2018). What’s missing from LTD models? Rethinking long term athlete development. Plymouth, MI.


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