Tuesday, October 19, 2010

LTAD Explained a Different Way

I have written several times about Long Term Athlete Development and how it is a crucial tool in the modern day development of athletes. Usually there is a superficial understanding of the idea when people are first introduced to it so repeated dialogue is good. What I will attempt today is to put a different perspective on the topic to broaden the understanding for some.

One thing I hear from the pessimistic minority is that following LTAD principles will not change anything, how can it? Some say these are just new labels but we will still have the same issues preventing growth or development or success. Others say that there are not enough resources to implement these ideas ie not enough money to do the things required. Or, more often, not enough pool time to train as much as is suggested; I hear that one quite a bit.

Let me explain how resources are what has always been preventing development and I'll show how LTAD could help remove that problem. I'll use an idea from biology known as Gause's Principle, or competitive exclusion, to help illustrate this. According to this principle species using the same resource cannot coexist in nature. I'll use "Water Polo Club" as a species and the city where it lives as the environment in which we apply the principle. Traditionally all Water Polo Club's were a single species and drawing on the same resources or pools, athletes, volunteers and financial support.

This commonality of club means that in our community the grassroots team competes for the same pool space as the competitive team because they are in the same "species". Consequently all clubs deplete pool resources without meeting the need of any one group. Is the space used correct for 10U kids, for 25-35 year olds, for school based programs or for National Team athletes? Do the facility owners ie the City, discuss allocation based on the end product of the participants ie physical literacy vs Olympic Podium? Are they allocating the pools to the sport based on no end product at all?

Apply this to athlete recruitment. Observe how many teams are made up of some Sport for Life players (who wish to be involved 2-3x week and travel once) and some Competitive ones (training every day and wanting games each month). What happens when the Sport for Life players are pushed by the Competitive ones to train too much? There is drop out. What happens when the Sport for Life hold back the Competitive ones from their regular events or daily training? There is underachievement and drop out again.

While this random use of facilities and unsatisfying development of all players goes on the community resources are depleted. Nothing thrives and only the club that fits the resource allocation continues to grow. I suggest that the LTAD will help the resource allocation be better directed and will solve this particular problem.

If we go back to the biological model of clubs being a similar species what the LTAD helps us do is distinquish between subspecies within the Water Polo Club family. That will allow for better exploitation of resources as players are recruited to a subspecies that meets their exact interest rather than sharing and feeling pressure from an external force pulling in a different direction.

Likewise, a much more effective push can be made to access local facilities to meet specific targets when the community need is better articulated. I am likely to have a better response to gaining access to a quiet community pool if I offer neighbourhood children a 1x week I Love Water Polo program. That's better than importing grown men from other neighbourhoods to violently shoot balls toward a net at 70km/hr while senior aquasize class runs alongside them. Putting the right program in new space allows for existing space be used more appropriately.

This classification of subspecies would also include coaches who lead the programs and having the right person is the key to leadership. How much easier will it be to attract the right people if they are leading those who share the same vision? Much! And, of course, current coaching education is directed toward specific program philosophies so the resources for the coach become much more meaningful. That may end some of the grumbling about how new CBET levels are imposing too much on volunteer coaches.

Are referees a part of the sport of water polo? Sure. Is there anywhere in Canada where there is a surplus of referees; too many to do the games that the community offers? Too many, so that each one is not able to do the number of games at their level? Maybe in a parallel universe but not here. I think it is possible that the referee shortage has to do with people getting involved at one level and being asked to referee at another, thereby removing their interest and passion. It's quite likely that many officials can be attracted to do community games with smiles, high 5's and thank you's. That is what would exist in a community stream if the competitive players and coaches were removed and given their own stream with appropriate practices, games and officials.

I hope I haven't bored anyone with this venture into a biological viewpoint. It is not exactly transferable, I know. However, it gives a bit of perspective about why we do not thrive when we offer obscure products to people looking for specific things. Let me know if I have helped or hurt the discussion with this article.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

October and already the Calendar is full

We've had a strange start to the season with the closing of our regular training facility and the movement of our secondary one. Practices have been less than ideal with I Love Water Polo kids coming twice per week and Competitive 14-20 coming 4x. They are using the same amount of space and time so running the older practice is a chore.

I'm glad we have had no time to shoot this month (no way to do so at this pool). That means legs, strength and speed are the focus. We still do ball work but not the powerful kind, just the technical type. Next week, when back at Pan Am Pool, the balls start to fly with players who have developed some strength and hunger to use it.

The first few games of the year, in the new Prairie Water Polo League, will have growing pains but it will be so much fun to coach a team in a game, work for a week or two on adjustments, and then play another team. That is what has been missing from the Canadian game forever and it's fun to be bringing it to life.

I am also looking forward to incorporating more of the sport science research we did last season into our training. That has started but will be much more important when shooting and when into the Specific Preparation part of the season. Right now it is all General Prep and we did research on specific technical things that have application in weeks ahead. By then I expect our initial research will be published as Dr. Marion Alexander is currently working on a draft of the summary data to be reviewed and put forward. I will be sure all coaches in Canadian clubs get this information, I am also going to ask to have it translated as I know a very bright and articulate young French athlete who could do this justice.

The fall has been so busy with club planning that I have not been able to set aside time to properly write this blog. But that should change and I will have a template of topics to write about in the weeks ahead ie Nutrition, Science, LTAD application, Technical Skills. I will seldom write about Tactics, this is for good reason. The majority of english language information published on water polo is tactical in nature, moving X's and O's on pages, and that all requires foundational skills that have not been addressed uniformly or even well. That is where my attention is focussed as other experts have tactics well in hand.