Long Term Athlete Development

Scientific research has identified that it takes at least 10 years, or 10,000 hours for talented athletes to achieve sporting excellence. There are no short cuts!



Long Term Athlete Development (LTAD) is about achieving optimal training, competition and recovery throughout an athlete’s career, particularly in relation to the important growth and development years of young people. If a long term approach to training is not adopted there is likely to be a plateau in performance, when growth and development slows significantly. Which for some swimmers may result in their performances getting worse. At this point the short-term training approach cannot be reversed.

This often leads to drop out before a swimmer has achieved close to their potential.


There are five clear reasons for introducing a Long term athlete development approach:

• To establish a clear swimmer development pathway;
• To identify gaps in the current swimmer development pathway;
• To realign and integrate the programmes for developing swimmers and swimming in Britain;
• To provide a planning tool, based on scientific research, for coaches and administrators.
• To guide planning for optimal performance.

It is anticipated that the principles of LTAD will be used to review existing swimming initiatives led by the governing body and inform any future initiatives. It is hoped that all swimming providers will use LTAD in a similar way. This will enable the swimming community to pull in one direction towards achieving Swimming’s goals and targets.


The following are some general observations of sporting systems from around the world (including
• Young athletes under-train, over-compete;
• Low training to competition ratios in early years;
• Adult competition superimposed on young athletes;
• Adult training programmes superimposed on young athletes;
• Male programmes superimposed on females;
• Training in early years focuses on outcomes (winning) rather than processes (optimal training);
• Chronological age influences coaching rather than biological age;
• The “critical” periods of accelerated adaptation are not fully utilised;
• Poor training between 6-16 years of age cannot be fully corrected (athletes will never reach
genetic potential);
• The best coaches are encouraged to work at elite level;
• Coach education tends to skim the growth, development and maturation of young people;
• Coaches, Swimmers and Parents need to be educated in LTAD principles;
• Administrators and officials need to be educated in LTAD principles.

Bill Sweetenham (British Swimming National Performance Director) summed up the current position with the development of British Swimming thus:

“Right now we have too many clubs in Great Britain offering too little training time and in most cases too much competition. This leaves many athletes in a twilight zone of training less than 14 hours a week, hoping for international results and expecting overseas tours and camps and national level success. For an athlete training 8 hours a week the benefits are social, fun, participation, team building and health benefits. For those athletes wishing for an international career and who are serious about optimum performance at the national level then swimming in a programme with a high performance objective of 18-25 hours is approximately what it will take to achieve these objectives. However, in most countries and in most clubs, the vast majority of athletes train between 8 and 14 hours per week. This is
the twilight zone, too much volume to be fun and achieve the social and happy benefits of the participation level (8 hours and under) and not enough to achieve the competitive results or optimum performance that an athlete expects. In other words it is too much for participation and too little to be considered really serious in terms of the competitive nature of the sport. Changing this twilight zone should be the major focus of every club and national programme.”


Long Term Athlete Development (LTAD) is a sports development framework that is based on
human growth and development. In short, it is about adopting an athlete centred approach to swimming development.
All young people follow the same pattern of growth from infancy through adolescence, but there are significant individual differences in both the timing and magnitude of the changes that take place. It is however important to stress that human growth and development happens without training, however swimming training can enhance all of the changes that take place.
A number of scientists have reported that there are critical periods in the life of a young person in which the effects of training can be maximised. This has led to the notion that young people should be exposed to specific types of training during periods of rapid growth and that the types of training should change with the patterns of growth. These have been used by Dr Istvan Balyi to devise a five stage LTAD framework that has been be adapted to swimming:

  • FUNdamental – basic movement literacy;
  • SwimSkills – building technique;
  • Training to Train – building the engine;
  • Training to Compete – optimising the engine;
  • Training to Win – maximising the engine.

Stage 1 – FUNdamental

AGE: Female 5 to 8 years;
Male 6 to 9 years.

The FUNdamental stage should be structured and fun! The emphasis is on developing basic movement literacy and fundamental movement skills. The skills to be developed are the ABCs (Agility, Balance, Coordination, Speed), RJT (Running, Jumping, Throwing), KGBs (Kinesthetics, Gliding, Buoyancy, Striking with the body) and CKs (Catching, Kicking, Striking with an implement). In order to develop basic movement literacy successfully participation in as many sports as possible should be encouraged.
Speed, power and endurance should be developed using FUN and games. In addition, children should be introduced to the simple rules and ethics of sports. No Periodisation should take place, but there should be well-structured programmes with proper progressions that are monitored regularly.

Stage 2 – SwimSkills: Building technique!

AGE: Female: 8 to 11 years;
Male: 9 to 12 years.
During this stage young swimmers should learn how to train and develop the skills of a specific sport.
There may be participation in complementary sports i.e. those sports, which use similar energy systems and movement patters. They should also learn the basic technical/tactical skills, and ancillary capacities, including:

  • Warm up and cool down;
  • Stretching;
  • Hydration and nutrition;
  • Recovery;
  • Relaxation and focusing.

This stage co-insides with peak motor co-ordination, therefore there should be an emphasis on skill development. Training should also include the use of ‘own body weight’ exercises; medicine ball and Swiss ball exercises as well as developing suppleness.
Although the focus is on training, competition should be used to test and refine skills. The
recommended training to competition ratio is 75% to 25%. There should be single periodisation.
If a young swimmer misses this stage of development then he/she will never reach their full potential.
One of the main reasons athletes plateau during the later stages of their careers is because of an over emphasis on competition instead of optimising training during this very important stage.

Stage 3 – Training To Train: Building the engine!

AGE: Female: 11 to 14 years;
Male: 12 to 15 years.

During the Training to Compete stage, there should be an emphasis on aerobic conditioning. This is the stage where there is greater individualisation of fitness and technical training. The focus should still be
on training rather than competition and the training should be predominantly of high volume, low intensity workloads. It is important to emphasise that high volume, low intensity training cannot be achieved in a limited time period, and therefore the time commitment to training should increase significantly. As the volume of training increases there is likely to be a reduction in the number of competitions undertaken. However, there should now be specific targets for each competition undertaken with a view to learning basic tactics and mental preparation. There should be either single or double periodisation of the training year.
During this stage, training should continue to develop suppleness and to include the use of ‘own body weight’ exercises; medicine ball and Swiss ball exercises. However towards the end of this stage, preparations should be made for the development of strength, which for girls occurs at the end of this stage and for boys at the beginning of the next stage. This should include learning correct weight lifting techniques. The ancillary capacities (the knowledge base of how to warm up and warm down; how to stretch and when to stretch; how to optimise nutrition and hydration; mental preparation; regeneration; how and when to taper and peak; pre-competition, competition and post competition routines) should be established. Similar to the previous stage, if insufficient time is devoted to this stage or it is missed, then the young swimmer will never reach their full potential.

Stage 4 – Training To Compete: Optimising the engine!

AGE: Female: 14 to 16 years;
Male: 15 to 18 years.

During the training to compete stage there should be a continued emphasis on physical conditioning with the focus on maintaining high volume workloads but with increasing intensity. The number of competitions should be similar to the end of the previous stage but the emphasis should be on developing individual strengths and weaknesses through modelling and nurturing technical and tactical
skills based around specific strokes or distances, but not both. As a result, there should be either double or triple periodisation of the training year. In addition, the ancillary capacities should be refined so they are more specific to the individual’s needs.
During this stage, training should also focus on developing maximum strength gain through the use of weights. This should be coupled with continued work on core body strength and maintaining suppleness.

Stage 5 – Training To Win: Maximising the engine!

AGE: Female: 16+ years;
Male: 18+ years.

This is the final stage of athletic preparation. The emphasis should be on specialisation and
performance enhancement. All of the athletes’ physical, technical, tactical, mental, and ancillary capacities should now be fully established with the focus shifting to the optimisation of performance.
Athletes should be trained to peak for specific competitions and major events. Therefore, all aspects of training should be individualised for specific events. There should be either double, triple or multiple periodisation, depending on the events being trained for. During this stage, training should continue to develop strength, develop core body strength and maintain suppleness.


Full details of The Swimmer Pathway can be obtained from ASA Merchandise Ltd, Unit 2 Kingfisher Enterprise Park, 50 Arthur Street, Redditch B98 8LG. Phone: (01527) 514288; Fax: (01527) 514277;
Website: www.asa-awards.co.uk 
The BEXLEY Swimming Club Website offers tables containing a summary of the LTAD framework for British Swimming and the full version ‘SUCCESS IS LONG TERM” the ASA LTAD 2010 document can be viewed here: