The other day I mentioned being exposed for the first time to the concept of Long-Term Athlete Development (LTAD), at least in those terms. This is a model which is focused primarily on youth in sports that takes into account things like physical and mental growth rates and development. The basic progression looks like this:
- Learning to train
- Training to train
- Training to compete
- Training to win
The LTAD model addresses the idea of when sport specialization should take place, when competition should be introduced and to what degree, what types of activities and exercises are recommended, and things like that. Here’s the British Athletics model, which offers a bit of detail:
Fundamentals – where the emphasis is on fun, developing basic fitness and general movement skills – training years 1 to 3 and ideally a chronological age of 6 to 13.
Learning to Train – where the emphasis is to learn how to train and develop their general skills – training years 3 to 5 and ideally a chronological age of 10 to 15.
Training to Train – where the emphasis is event(s) specific training – training years 5 to 7 and ideally a chronological age of 13 to 17.
Training to Compete – where the emphasis is to correct weaknesses and develop athletic abilities – training years 7 to 9 and ideally a chronological age of 15 to 19.
Training to Win – where the emphasis is on enhancing performance – training years 10+ and ideally a chronological age of 18
I’d be curious to see how prevalent these ideas are in the States where the youth sports model is not academy linked (in most sports) in the way it is here in England and in other countries. As a result, there tends not to be one singular organization overseeing a given youth athlete consistently over time. Additionally, in volleyball we tend not to be too involved in the earliest stages of young athlete development because it’s a relatively late pick-up sport for the majority of participants.
For example, when I was the Girls’ Juniors scheduler for the Northeast region it was clear from the distribution of teams that most players got their start as high school freshmen. There were more 15/16 year old teams than in any other age group – way more than for the younger age groups especially. Girls were getting involved in the sport as junior varsity athletes at their high school and playing Juniors volleyball on the back of that (Autumn high school season, Winter/Spring club season). There was then a bit of a taper in the 17/18 age group as those who didn’t progress on to varsity or otherwise lost interest in the sport fell away. Granted, the Northeast is not exactly a volleyball hotbed, but I suspect you’d see a similar Juniors participation peak at the 15/16 age level across the board, if perhaps not quite so exaggerated in comparison to U14s.
Getting back the point, even though playing volleyball specifically isn’t something we see a lot of in young kids, that doesn’t mean the LTAD model doesn’t apply to our sport. We can introduce the key foundational aspects like movement and coordination early on, and even some of the general ideas of the sport via games like Newcomb, which I personally first played in primary school (volleyball was part of the P.E. curriculum in middle school – grades 6-8). It’s certainly food for thought, and something those involved in youth volleyball should be looking at.