Athletic development specialists dedicated to the art and science of excellence in movement

Long Term Athletic Development (LTAD) Principles for Ironkids Triathlon: Part 2

In the first installment of this blog we talked about general concepts related to a Long Term Athletic Development approach for the Ironkids Triathlon age bracket of 6 through 15.  In part two of this blog, we'll delve more specifically into the first two stages of the LTAD model: Active Start and FUNdamentals.

Active Start

The first phase in the LTAD model is Active Start.  This phase covers ages 0-6 for both genders.  The focus is upon getting kids up and moving in a variety of different ways, all of which must lay the foundation for a lifelong pursuit of activity.  There’s a wide range of how to introduce physical activity, but most critical is recognizing the movement milestones during this period of life.  The LTAD resources provide great detail in outlining these milestones and I won’t attempt to reproduce them here. 

The general concept behind LTAD at this stage is nothing profound: get kids moving and provide them with a variety of activities to cultivate the development of physical literacy.  They should be exposed to various forms of multidirectional movement in the form of games and other mentally stimulating activities, in land, water, air, and on slippery surfaces like ice.  There is no formal template at this stage but winning swimming races and track meets is not on the agenda!

According to Canadian Sport for Life: “From ages 0-6 years, children need to be introduced to relatively unstructured play that incorporates a variety of body movements. An early active start enhances development of brain function, coordination, social skills, gross motor skills, emotions, leadership, and imagination. It also helps children build confidence, develop posture and balance, build strong bones and muscles, promote healthy weight, reduce stress, improve sleep, learn to move skillfully, and learn to enjoy being active.”


Training becomes slightly more directed during the FUNdamentals stage.  A kid who has been active during the first six years of life will reap greater benefits from training during this phase.  Training can become mildly structured, but the emphasis remains on FUN.  The word FUN also serves as a helpful reminder for the importance of Fundamental Movement Skills or what we might call the “other” FMS (not the Functional Movement Screen, although that too has its basis in Fundamental Movement Skills).

The FUNdamentals stage is the first stage in which the concepts of biological age and accredited adaptation become serious considerations.  The concept of biological age means that kids should be trained not according to their chronological age (how old they are by the calendar), but instead based upon their developmental age.  A kid who is slow to develop physically will need a different training than someone of the exact same calendar age who develops rapidly.  It is also important that coaches remain consistent in tracking kids’ heights to plan for subsequent training blocks when a sudden growth spurt will dictate a modification in training emphasis.   

This stage, which includes the ranges of 6-8 for girls and 6-9 for boys, is extremely ripe for explosiveness and speed development.  Boys are especially suited for flexibility development in addition to speed. The concept of accredited adaptation means that kids are most adaptive to certain physical qualities based upon their age.  

Empirical and anecdotal research indicates that kids can develop speed during this stage more efficiently than during any other stage of life.  As Dr. Greg Rose of the Titleist Performance Institute says, if you hit this “window of opportunity”, the kid will have access to “rocket fuel” to the rest of his or her life.  If you miss this window of opportunity, you can still train the kid to run on jet fuel, but he or she will have missed the optimal time for speed introduction.  Although triathlon is not an explosive sport, there are many benefits of maximizing the opportunities for speed development at this stage.  Doses of speed are undoubtedly valuable in all triathlon distances.  It pays to cultivate speed at this stage when it can be done with little metabolic cost.

The corollary of this stage being ripe for speed development is that strength and aerobic gains are modest at best.  Piling on the mileage in hopes of getting a jump on the competition will have little long term benefit.  Training must begin the lifelong process of becoming more physically literate.  General physical literacy should focus upon blending physical and cognitive development through a combination of the following:

*Multidirectional locomotive skills (i.e. crawling, walking, skipping, running)

*ABC’s – Agility, balance, coordination

*Manipulation and object control skills (i.e. stick games, bike riding)

*Awareness – Kinisthetic, Body, Spatial, and Rules

Although the LTAD framework cautions against premature specialization during the FUNdamentals stage, it is valuable to enroll budding triathletes in year round swimming.  Few if any swim programs will train several hours a day seven days a week.  As such, there is ample time for kids to partake in other activities to become well rounded physically.  However, organized swimming is best setting in which they can learn the swim fundamentals that will support them for life. 

Remember, the FUNdamentals stage should be FUN.  This stage is an early benchmark in the lifetime process of Long Term Athletic Development.  Triathlon success should not be the primary focus at this stage.  In fact, outside of early specialization sports like gymnastics, diving, and synchronized swimming, no sport should focus on competitive results at this point.  In the next segment of this blog we will focus upon the next two LTAD stages within the Ironkids age brackets during which training becomes slightly more formalized.    


Triathlon Canada Long Term Athletic Development


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