Introduction to the LTAD

The commonly used acronym LTAD stands for Long Term Athlete Development. Long Term Athlete Development, or more correctly, the Long Term Athlete Development model, is a model for the growth and development of athletes (using the term very broadly) and the skills they should be learning throughout this development.

In Canada, each sport has their own version of the LTAD model based on the foundational scientific principles and their own best practices applied to the sepcific peculiarities of their sport. All of these models divide an athlete's development into multiple stages and the skills they should be learning into multiple domains. It is these stages and domains that form the foundation of the LTAD and all of the material found on this site.

LTAD Principles

The LTAD model is based on a number of principles from a number of scientific fields and area of study; concepts such as developmental age (vs chronological age), trainability and windows of trainability, cognitive development, periodization, and many more. If you want to read an intro to some of these concepts you can find many of them outlined in Orienteering Canada's original 2012 Long Term Athlete Development Guide. We do not discuss these anywhere on this site, prefering instead to focus on the practical implications of the LTAD for coaches, athletes, and parents alike.

If you want to really dig into the concepts behind long term athlete development we suggest you visit

It is important to stess that, while the concepts in LTAD model are based on scientific research, athlete development is an extremely complex subject and as such it is impossible to come up with a model that accurately reflects every athlete and every athlete's development. Similarly, it is impossible to come up with a set of rules that any athlete, parent, or coach can follow in every situation. As such the material contained on this site should be considered best practices which may evolve over time as more research is done and as the community gains more experience using the material.

The bottom line is that an athlete's development and success in sport depend largely on a complex set of factors centering on their enjoyment of the sport, positive encouragement, and their desire and commitment to train and improve and the soft skills (interpersonal skills, leadership skills, etc.) that their coaches and support team bring to the table. Coaches, parents, and others should not lose sight of this fact amongst the discussion of what skills to teach when and how to teach them.

The LTAD Stages

Orienteering Canada's LTAD model has 9 stages divided into 3 broad categories, the physical literacy stages, the excellence stages, and Active for Life. The physical literacy stages are the 3 earliest stages that everyone should go through where the focus is on developing physical literacy, fundamental movement skills, and fundamental sport skills. The excellence stages are those stages following the physical literacy stages where athletes develop the technical, physical, psychological, and other skills to train and compete as competitive athletes, eventually leading to being world-class competitors. Athletes can jump in and out of the excellence stages at any point. Finally, Active for Life is the all encompassing stage following the physical literacy stages for those that are not pursuing athletic excellence. Active for Life could be subdivided in many ways but Orienteering Canada does not currently do so.

Three Physical Literacy Stages:

Five Excellence Stages:

Active for Life

Skills and Practices

In general LTAD models divide skills and practices into 4 areas or domains: technical/tactical skills, physical capacities, mental/psychological skills, and life skills. Orienteering Canada frames these skill and practice domains slightly differently. You will see these domains used throughout the site to classify skills and pratices for ease of reference.

Navigation Skills

Navigation skills are those skills related to map reading and compass use independent of any physical components related to moving through the terrain. Skills otherwise related to the technical rules of the sport such as checking control codes to confirm you are at the right control are also considered navigation skills in this context. These skills span the complete range from holding a map 'properly' in one hand to micro-optimization of route choices and similar tactical navigational decisions. 

Running Skills

Running skills are those skills related to running economy or form, including travelling on trails, through various types of terrain, and going over, under, and around various obstacles. Skills developed in early stages such as agility, balance, and coordination are also considered here as they lead directly into more obvious running skills. The physical capacities (endurance, speed, power, etc.) involved in running are not considered here.

Physical and Training Practices

The physical and training practices in this domain have been framed in terms best practices to apply at each ofthe LTAD stages. Practices include workout types and training frequencies to use at different stages as well as the underlying knowledge and skills required to train as a competitive athlete - tapering, recovery and regeneration, etc. 

Psychological Skills and Practices

Psychological skills are those mental skills related to staying positive, focused, and motived in training and competition. These skills include goal setting, visualization, emotional and distraction control and more.

Life Skills and Practices

Life skills are those other skills not directly related to an athlete's training and competition that nonetheless can have a large impact on their performance as well as their overall health and wellbeing. These skills include a variety of sport-life balance, relationships, travel skills, media savvy, nutrition and hydration, time-management and more. Many people dismiss the importance of life skills, yet, they can have an immense impact on an athlete's ability to perform to their capacity.