Developing A Long Term Athlete Development Strategy

Author: Aidan McCarron GAA Coach, B.A. in Physical Education, MSc


Long term athlete development “LTAD” is an important factor to consider within any sport. Managers, Coaches and other sports practitioners need to fully understand the benefits of a LTAD plan and what constitutes an effective model. In GAA there is no standardised Athletic pathway for any age group at any level set by headquarters at Croke Park. In other sports it has been documented the success LTAD plans have had, an example close to home would be the IRFU’s LTAD model. This LTAD model is based on an integrated framework approach with an aim to facilitate the development of rugby enthusiasts at all participation levels. The title of the programme is “6 to six nations”. With an effective LTAD model, organisations can create a physical syllabus to develop maturing athletes in their elite pathway.

Any competent LTAD programme must start at youth level, as this gives athletes time to develop in the correct athletic trajectory set out for them in their chosen sport. It must be athlete centred and possess a framework of practical and functional physical development that will ultimately improve physical literacy, movement skills, and enhance athleticism in the individuals. Athleticism is the result of athletic movement skills development that involves learning proper techniques for agility, balance, coordination, flexibility, metabolic training, power, reaction time, speed, strength and strength endurance. Athletic development in any athlete(s) requires the fundamental variable of time. Studies show it takes 8 – 12 years of training for a talented athlete to reach elite levels. This highlights a long-term commitment to physical literacy and proper training is fundamental if an athlete is to attain their optimal physical level for sports performance. Any successful pathway must incorporate protective and restorative strategies and interventions for athlete’s development, regardless of the pace of the athletic development within the individual. A well-devised and balanced schedule of training, practice, competition and recovery will invariably enhance optimum development throughout the individual’s athletic career.

A good LTAD model must begin by focusing on Fundamental Movement skills which will also help improve the athletes technical and tactical skills in conjunction with future injury prevention. The teaching of proper movement vocabulary and physical literacy will help improve athleticism and make a positive impact on improving performance. The learning of the game at young age will better prepare the athletes to reach full potential with the development of such transferable skills. Specific physical training in this model will reflect the individuals needs and capabilities reflected in the results of specific testing days to measure the key outcome variable of improving performance.

Key coaching strategies will be used to help balance the programmes for the developing athletes at each stage of the plan. General training from a muscular-skeletal view will develop all muscle groups in tandem with ligaments and tendons. This will help create structural strength and stability and elevate the athlete’s range of motion in all planes of movement. Specific training will help isolate the key physical components required for GAA being relevant to each individual athlete. Quite often the loss, stalling or lack of athletic development in athletes stems from poor planning, inappropriate training or programme design, poor physical qualities and poor standard of coaching

All players will begin at Level 1 regardless of their chronological age, with every exercise being successfully negotiated opening the door to more advanced exercises in the following progressive level. Progressing this way allows all athletes to efficiently perform exercise with correct technique repeatedly. The advancing athletes will acquire a range of physical qualities and the development of sport specific actions which will equip them to withstand the complexities of advanced training. All athletes will be given time to adapt before being moved forward in levels with progress being measured in both skill and physical development. Emphasis from the coaches will focus on the consolidation of skill development and technical competence of certain lifts such as Olympic lifts and squats, rather than load dysfunctional movement patterns. A foundation period in Level 1 is essential for technique development that allows athletes to gain body awareness of specific movement patterns. The later training levels will be more complex and demand body awareness. The LTAD plan will be flexible and will use a combination of best practice and evidence-based practice.

Physical Development Levels


Level 1

Level 1 will consist of building the physical foundation for the athletes for future training and performance. Motor patterns will be enhanced with bilateral exercises being the focus. Posterior chain work and landing mechanics will also be of great importance in this level. This stage highlights the importance of on establishing fundamental basics of athletic development. A range of performance tests to identify deficits in stabilisation and mobility are performed including the FMS. Players are assessed at the beginning of pre-season, then again at the mid-point of the season and lastly, just after the season ends. Corrective exercise programmes are designed depending on individual needs in line with other gym work.


Level 2

This level will be designed to load the foundations developed in level 1. All the movement patterns and exercises successfully learned in level 1 will now be loaded movements as well as a continuation of individual corrective work. Exercises will also be progressed with an advancement on the plyometric work performed in level 1. Olympic lifts will be introduced with a focus on the velocity of movements also. Another focus in this stage will be establishing correct movement mechanics on the GAA pitch. Successful development of these fundamental movement skills on the pitch are essential to ensure correct movement patterns are mastered.


Level 3

There will be a focus on specific adaptions and the force velocity curve in this level. Qualities each athlete needs to train will be identified with exercises used to improve even further their functional ability and to solve any imbalances that may exist between strength and power. During this level physical development strategies will be utilised in a sport- specific context. Aerobic testing will be completed using tests that mimic as close as possible to game related activities such as the bangs-bo test.


Level 4

Competitive adaptions and factors that link to performance will be used in the player’s individualised programmes in this level. This level will see the player using velocity-based training with products such as Push bands. GPS, Heart Rate measurement and RPE will be used to monitor individual training load of every session (both gym and field) based to ensure players are not over or undertraining. Players in this level again regardless of chronological age will have a training de-load week every fourth week. It is important to note that exercises that the athlete efficiently masters in previous levels will continue to be implemented in their current programme.



Table 1 with some sample exercises from each level.

About The Author:

Aidan McCarron GAA Coach


B.A. in Physical Education, MSc Sports Performance, NSCA Accreditation


Aidan McCarron is a former Tyrone GAA player winning Ulster Titles at U21 and Senior Level. Combining his playing experience with a deep understanding of S&C, Aidan has forged a successful career as a coach working at both club and intercounty level. In this article, Aidan discusses the needs for clubs to have a Long-Term Athlete Development Plan in place and highlights the benefits of this.


Contact Aidan on email wylielfc1@hotmail.co.uk or Twitter @aidanwyliemcc

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