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Athlete Development

In working with our swimmers, Minnetonka Swim Club coaches take an athlete-centered, scientifically-based approach known as Long Term Athlete Development (LTAD).  Based on the work of Dr. Istvan Balyi, LTAD is a framework for athlete training, competition, and recovery created in relation to growth and development.

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 maximized.  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. 

Swimming has seen many examples of athletes undertaking adult-oriented training programs at early stages of development and becoming “age group” stars, only to never be heard from again later in their careers.

In truth, talent and elite potential are extremely difficult to assess until children fully realize adolescence.  Except in rare cases where athletes reach elite performance prior to adolescence, most elite performers in swimming are into their 20s before reaching their maximum performances.  Prior to this stage, the key focus should be on the development and mastery of skills, and the acquisition and expression of a love for the sport.

The following are general observations of sporting systems from around the world (including Minnesota swimming):

  • Young athletes under train and over compete
  • Training-to-competition ratios in early years are low
  • Adult competition is superimposed on young athletes
  • Adult training programs are superimposed on young athletes
  • Males' programs are 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 utilized
  • The best coaches are encouraged to work at the elite level instead of training early technique
  • Coach education tends to skim the growth, development, and maturation of young people
  • Poor training between 6-16 years of age cannot be fully corrected (athletes will never reach genetic potential)
  • Coaches, swimmers, and parents need to be educated in LTAD principles
  • Administrators and officials need to be educated in LTAD principles

In response to these observations the Minnetonka Swim Club has adopted the LTAD framework:

  • FUNdamental—basic movement literacy
  • Swim Skills—building technique
  • Training to TRAIN—building the engine
  • Training to COMPETE—optimizing the engine
  • Training to WIN—maximizing the engine

The first four stages have been adopted into the Minnetonka Swim Club’s development program and are the basis for how we structure our team.  (Stage 5—Training to WIN—is applicable to professional/collegiate swimmers who are highly specialized).

Ultimately, taking a long-term approach to athlete development allows the Minnetonka Swim Club to:

  • Establish a clear swimmer pathway for the development of skills across physical, technical, tactical, mental and lifestyle categories.
  • Provide a planning tool, based on scientific research, for coaches to appropriately schedule competition and progressive challenges through an athlete’s career.
  • Guide planning for optimal performance.
  • Produce better skilled and more athletic athletes, resulting in more athletes continuing in the sport to ages where they are able to reach maximum potential.
  • Create a sport experience that provides each young participant with the opportunity to achieve success to their highest capabilities, and to continue a life of active living.
  • Establish a culture and environment for the athletes of the Minnetonka Swim Club to fulfill our vision:
    • To see swimmers of all ages and abilities conduct themselves in a respectful manner, dedicated to something that is difficult, something that requires perseverance, and the daily determination to push to new limits, in swimming and in life.