There’s lots of talk these days about LTAD (Long Term Athletic Development), mainly because there’s a lot of coaches and parents of athletes who don’t quite understand that certain activities are appropriate for certain stages of an athlete’s development and that they can’t be interchanged.
I’ve been thinking about this concept for a while and a great example popped up that I’d like to relate to you readers.
My Former Student
As many of you may or may not know, in my previous life I was a biology teacher at Van Nuys High School. I taught Advanced Placement Biology and Honors Physiology. One of the students in our Math/Science Magnet who took both of those courses was an energetic student named Charles (later changed to Chucky) Klapow. Although he wasn’t a member of any of the school’s athletic teams, he knew of my weightlifting coaching and one day wandered into my weight room.
He watched some of my lifters snatch and clean & jerk. He asked if he could try and I encouraged him to do so, although I knew that he had never trained with weights before. To the astonishment of most in the room he performed a near perfect snatch and then a clean & jerk! Just by watching he had figured out how the movements were performed and he was able to emulate them with little variance.
So Here’s the Secret
I wasn’t nearly as surprised as the others as I was familiar with Charles’ background as a member of our school’s dance team, and that dancers are possessed of considerable athletic talent and especially the ability to learn new skills through visual exposure. Charles had been dance training since he was a youngster and his nervous system was highly developed as a result.
How good was he?
After high school, he pursued his dancing and choreographed the dance numbers for all three High School Musical movies while performing as one of the basketball players. This earned him an Emmy for choreography. He learned to figure skate so that he could choreograph the High School Musical Ice Show. Moving forward he became a choreographer for elite figure skaters in the Winter Olympics. By 2009 he was selected as one of Michael Jackson’s dancers for the This Is It Tour and a couple of years ago he went on tour as choreographer for the Rolling Stones.
With the talent to do what he did as a dancer, it is no surprise that he showed such great promise for performing the snatch and clean & jerk.
The Take Away
Anyone looking to develop an athlete from childhood to adulthood needs to consider the appropriateness of the timing of the type of training. Youngsters should not be training in the same manner as adults simply because the various systems and organs are not prepared for the same type of stimulation.
The development of body awareness, kinesthesia and the ability to learn new skills through visualization are congruent with how a youngster’s body is developing. This is why dancers, gymnasts and figure skaters can begin practicing for these sports at an early age. Heavy work for the muscular system, the connective structures and the endocrine system are appropriate for older, mature athletes. Reversing the training will not yield the same result.
Because Charles developed his nervous system early his body had the ability to specialize later in a variety of sporting activities because he had performed the proper preparation. If he had decided to become a lifter we could have then begun the specialization and his body would be prepared to develop synergistically and his long term results would have been at the peak of his talent.
Doing the right thing at the right time is the key to long term athletic development.