I mentioned before the Long-Term Athlete Development (LTAD) concept I learned about back when I coached in England. This model focuses mainly on youth in sports. It takes into account things like physical and mental growth rates and development. The basic progression looks like this.

  1. FUNdamental
  2. Learning to train
  3. Training to train
  4. Training to compete
  5. Training to win

The LTAD model addresses the idea of when sport specialization should take place. It also speaks to when competition should come in to play, and to what degree, as well as 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. This is 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. Consider this as 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. This is training years 5 to 7, ideally a chronological age of 13 to 17.

Training to Compete – where the emphasis is to correct weaknesses and develop athletic abilities. Here we’re talking about training years 7 to 9, ideally a chronological age of 15 to 19.

Training to Win – where the emphasis is on enhancing performance. This is training years 10+ and ideally a chronological age of 18+

I’d be curious to see how prevalent these ideas are in the States. The US youth sports model is not academy linked (mostly) in the way it is in England and elsewhere. As a result, there tends not to be one main 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. This is because it’s a relatively late pick-up sport for many participants.

Here’s an example from when I was the Girls’ Juniors scheduler for the Northeast region. The distribution of teams made it clear 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 (12s, 14s). Girls started in the sport as junior varsity athletes at their high school and played 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. Simply, those who didn’t make varsity or just lost interest in the sport fell away.

Granted, the Northeast is not exactly a volleyball hotbed. I suspect there is 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.

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John Forman
John Forman

John is currently the Talent Strategy Manager (oversees the national teams) and Indoor Performance Director for Volleyball England, as well as Global Director for Volleyball for Nation Academy. His volleyball coaching experience includes all three NCAA divisions, plus Junior College, in the US; university and club teams in the UK; professional coaching in Sweden; and both coaching and club management at the Juniors level. He's also been a visiting coach at national team, professional club, and juniors programs in several countries. Learn more on his bio page.

Please share your own ideas and opinions.