Long-Term Athlete Development Model



Long-Term Athlete Development (LTAD) is becoming an integral piece in the engagement of youth in sport.  The goal of athlete development is to consciously implement stages of development that introduce sport in an enjoyable and appropriate setting. The long -term benefits can be increased physical, mental, spiritual and emotional health and improve and instill habits of healthy living and holistic well-being. As part of the developmental mission of water polo as a youth sport, properly addressing the needs of athletes and designing activities that are appropriate for their age and stages of development is a necessity.


The main purpose of creating a long-term athlete development model that is unique to our program that incorporates a variety of sources and program activities to enhance the enjoyment and athletic development of the youth athletes in our program. As a result, we feel we will build a strong fun experience but also develop well-rounded and highly experienced athletes. This will lead to greater athletic achievements but also sport retention and a building block for our Marlins community.

Cincinnati Marlins Vision and Mission Statements and Values

Vision Statement

Leading the Nation – Developing Champions in the Water & in Life.


Excellence – Our commitment to be the best in the quality of our services, our financial decisions and in all that we undertake.

Ethics – Our decisions and actions will reflect honesty, integrity and truthfulness.

Respect – We will value our members, families, staff and competitors. We will create a positive and encouraging environment.

(7/3/16 - https://www.teamunify.com/About.jsp?team=oscm)

Developmental Stages 1-4:

As part of identifying a structure suitable for our team, we have broken up our stages of development into eight stages. Presented here are the first 4 stages:

  1. Engagement in Play

  2. Development of Motor Function

  3. Encourage multi-sport participation

  4. Support performance and participation choices of the athlete

We have provided an overview of each stage from a broad perspective. This will be followed by a section specifically on how the Cincinnati Marlins Water Polo program will construct each stage.


Stage 1: Engagement in Play and Introduction of Lifetime Motor Function (Ages 2-7; Splashball; U-14)

Engagement in play comes in many forms. Introductory youth sport can and should be included in this stage. Children should be allowed access to opportunities of activity, both structured and unstructured, where the emphasis is physical movement and play. Youth sport, where the emphasis is fun, it is engaging and appropriately challenging can call in this stage. Recreational development regarding team sports and competition is encouraged. Life-long motor function includes skills such as running, swimming, jumping and being able negotiate and handle one’s natural body weight relative to tasks. The emphasis should being making activities fun.

Stage 2: Development of Motor Function (Ages 7-10; U-14)

Incorporating Vygotsky’s Zone of Proximal Development, a physical education approach can be taken to challenge and and teach children skills by integrating a variety of activities but should not become stale or uninteresting. These activities can and should involve games that are cross-related to other sports and activities. The emphasis is the further development of the skills that are specific to tasks such as games and sports but also continue to develop the lifetime motor skills. This is the stage when abilities begin to show regarding the task at hand (example: competent swim lessons student becomes a competitive swimmer or introductory water polo).

Stage 3: Encourage Multi-Sport Participation (Ages 10-14; U-14 & U16)

Building on Stage 2, encouraging appropriately competitive experiences in multiple sports allows for continued holistic athletic development. This could include different types of sports that utilize different skills, or the sports may have more similarities than differences such as cross country and running.

Stage 4: Support of Athletic Choices (Ages 14-17; U16, U18)

Athletes must be allowed to pick and choose, with guidance from adults, on what sports to do and the freedom to be happy with their choices. A level of autonomy and ownership must be supported at this stage.

Marlins Stage 1:

Engagement in play comes in many forms. For water polo the most Introductory youth sport version is SplashballTM. USA Water Polo  designed this program to introduce the sport of water polo to children 5-9 years old, the intent is to provide basic skills and understanding of the sport in a recreational format. SplashballTM harnesses all the fun, dynamic aspects of the game in a safe, easy to learn aquatic experience that will motivate kids to swim and stay fit. Cincinnati Marlins are a proud member of USA Water Polo.  Youth sport should emphasize participation and fun. This stage is engaging and appropriately challenging. The emphasis should being making activities fun. In this stage as well, the incorporation of swimming and water safety skills would be introduced to increase confidence in athletes and build the life-time motor skills. Part of this is accomplished through discovery and the playing of games.

Marlins Stage 2:

In this stage, we begin to appropriately place athletes in the proper training and competition groups based on needs and abilities. This is to provide the best environment possible while also being able to challenge our athletes as we develop them in the program. The practice groups would have “hard ceilings but soft wall”. That is players have many opportunities to explore their abilities in their groups and be pushed but for the sake of continuity and want for cohesiveness, movement to another group would not happen until a season transition.

Marlins Stage 3:

Building on Marlins Stage 2, encouraging appropriately competitive experiences in multiple sports allows for continued holistic athletic development. Water polo being a less popular sport in the tri-state area, it is not as readily accessible as a sports option as other sports. In addition, we have found that around the ages of 10-14, athletes start to begin to narrow their interests in sports. We have found that sports involving more technical training, such as our competitive swimming program, have a slight decrease regarding retention in participation to ball sports. It is the developmental goal in Stage 3 to promote the participation in both water polo and competitive swimming to cater to the wants and needs of the athletes by providing a cross-correlating sporting option for a more holistic athletic experience. Continuing to support the interests of our swimmer and polo players, discouragement of other sports than swimming and water polo is not part of our mission, but we want the athletes engaged in our program to have options for multiple sporting experiences.

Marlins Stage 4:

Athletes must be allowed to pick and choose, with guidance from adults, on what sports to do and the freedom to be happy with their choices. Around the age of 15, many athletes choose one sport to focus on more than others. This level of focus has benefits and drawbacks. The benefit is that our program provides both a competitive swimming experience and a water polo experience. At this level of competition, Senior and high school level play, a level of autonomy and ownership must be supported. It is our belief that those choosing to only engage in swimming are supported fully and those who find water polo their main sport are supported fully. But the uniqueness of the Marlins Stage 4 is that is provides options for engaging in both and finding a training schedule that enables the potential for maximum individual participation in both.

All stages are designed to transition smoothly from one stage to another. This is to insure that each individual athlete has the attention he or she needs and deserves and to provide holistic development as a continuum at whatever stage the athlete enters the program.



As part of the Marlins Stages, we have specific goals to be accomplished as part of the Marlins polo experience: Technical, Tactical, Physical, and Psychological. These Watermarks are things that can be found in every stage, but the common purpose in each stage is as follows.

Technical:  The technical skills that are emphasized are those that are essential to a comprehensive approach to water polo. These include treading and water movement, passing and catching, shooting and game-play skills. Beginning with the youth stages all the water through the Master’s level, the technical skills are give the chance to be developed properly at early age with the opportunity to practice and utilize these skills for many years at the senior and Master’s level.

Tactical:  Game-play and tactical skills will be introduced at a basic level, predominantly focused on inclusion of players and a simple understanding of primary goals in the game. Using a variety of games, players will have an opportunity to be exposed to a variety of game-play scenarios teaching skills. As a result, each Marlins stage will incorporate more tactical understanding the more experienced they become. With age and long-term development comes the ability to acquire expertise over a long span of time.

Physical:  Water polo is a very physically demanding game. Game-play and practices provide a bulk of the conditioning needs for the sport. However, as athletes enter stages 3 and 4, cross-conditioning will become more of an emphasis with strength and conditioning as part of the practice regime and macrocycle of training. Those who choose to swim competitively will have the additional cardiovascular benefits of endurance training as well. In addition, athletes will be taught to properly take care of their bodies when it comes to injury prevention, recovery, diet and rest. Water polo can also be enjoyed at all ages depending on the intensity desired.

Psychological:  In addition to water polo being a very physically demanding sport, it is also a very mentally demanding sport. Our coaches make a point to keep in mind the stages when incorporating pressures of the sport in competition. We want to keep an outlook of healthy competition demands so athletes can learn to perform under pressure and maintain a positive outlook on the sport for a very long time. This approach puts an emphasis on building positive relationships with the athletes and fostering a culture of inclusion as much as competitive success. Into adult year, the social component of engaging in sport becomes important. Providing the means for long-term investment will take the sport of water polo and turn it into a great social opportunity as well as providing health benefits of exercise. Adults need to play too!



David Albert,  Marlins Water Polo; U14 Co-Ed and U18 Girls Coach

Xavier University

MEd. Coaching Education & Athlete Development  

Cincinnati, Ohio

*For full list of references, please contact @ [email protected]*