Long-Term Athlete Development

Long-Term Athlete Development (LTAD), in its most basic and simple terms, is a player progression model with stages (not age groups) based on the developmental age of a person. Each stage of the LTAD model is linked to a number of athletic abilities (physical, motor, mental, technical and tactical) that need to be developed. The stage and rate of acquisition, development, refinement and perfection of these skills is based on the physical, emotional, mental and cognitive maturation of the athlete. Each of these factors contributes to determining the true age (developmental age) of the athlete.
At a first glance, it seems that the LTAD model is strictly for high-performance athletes. This is a common error in the understanding of LTAD. LTAD is a process that takes participants from playground to podium and cradle to grave. The purpose and intention of the LTAD principles and philosophies is to provoke a culture change at all levels of physical activity and sport (i.e. Parks and Recreation, school boards, club sports, Provincial and National organizations, etc.):


  1. 1. Develop a healthier and more active Canadian population beginning with children all the way through late adulthood.
  2. 2. Develop a more efficient domestic infrastructure for high-performance sports in order to achieve best-ever podium results at the World Championships and Olympic Games.


The LTAD was developed by a group of sport scientists and adopted by the Canadian Government in 2005. As mandated, and financially supported, by Heritage Canada through Sport Canada, water polo in Canada developed its own LTAD overview document “The pursuit of excellence and an active lifestyle” based on the Canadian Sport for Life (CS4L) LTAD consultation paper. The water polo in Canada LTAD document is available to download at www.waterpolo.ca/ltadresources.aspx along with the CS4L consultation paper and other valuable educational resources for parents, athletes, coaches and clubs. This is the first version of the water polo in Canada LTAD overview document (2010) and subsequent versions will be published based on the modifications identified through the Competition Review process.
LTAD may have different impacts on various participants based on who they are and what role they play.  The level of understanding and need for knowledge will also differ.  We have identified various stakeholders in the LTAD process and have provided targeted messages and resources for these people:  athletes/parentscoachesofficials and clubs.  Furthermore, water polo in Canada will be experiencing some significant and exciting changes related to the LTAD philosophies and principles in the coming years.  The process has been underway since the summer of 2011.  These changes relate to the competition system for water polo in Canada from grassroots to high-performance and the process is called the Competition Review.


Prior to describing the water polo in Canada stage of development it is important to review the some key LTAD terminology.  Please read the LTAD Glossary of Terms for important definitions that will be used throughout.

The table below describes the various stages of development in the water polo in Canada LTAD:



LTAD Stage






Getting Wet

Physical Literacy

Home, school, swimming lessons Early childhood



Physical Literacy

Home, school, ILWP, swimming lessons, club Early/Late childhood & Early puberty
M 6-9; F 6-8


Lay the foundations

Physical Literacy

Home, school, ILWP, swimming lessons, club Late Childhood & Early puberty
M 9-12; F 8-11


Build the competitive base


Club, Provincial Team, National Team Early/Late puberty
M 12-16; F 11-15

Train to



Club, National Team Late puberty & Early adulthood
M 16-19~; F 15-18~

Train to 

Road to excellence


NCAA, Semi-Pro, Professional, National Team Early adulthood & Adulthood
M 19-15~; F 18-23~

Living to 

Own the podium


Club, University, Masters Aduthood
M 25+(20+);
F 23+(18+)

Competitive for 

Training and competing


  Club, University,
  Early/Late puberty
through adulthood
Approx 13+

Active for 

Water polo for life


Club, Middle/High School, Masters Late puberty through adulthood
Approx 16+



It is important to note that the chronological age is only an approximation and that the developmental age, which includes physical, emotional, mental and cognitive components, determine the stage of development. For example, if an athlete begins playing water polo as an adult they would enter through the Active for Life or Competitive for Life stage. Although emotionally, mentally and cognitively they are adults they may be at a Technical Foundations or Competitive Foundations stage with regards to skill development. Another example is an athlete who is 18 years old and has been playing the sport for a number of years. Although chronologically they may be in the Train to Compete stage, however their skill level, physical abilities and developmental age may actually place them in the Competitive Foundations stage of development. This may not impact which league, tournament and age group as these are determined by chronological age (i.e. 18 and under), however; how this athlete is coached will be different than their peers who are truly Train to Compete athletes.