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LTAD Conference – Key Takeaways

On July 9-10th I was fortunate to attend the LTAD Conference which featured some brilliant speakers who shared their practice on all things long-term athlete development. Below are my key takeaways from each presentation, if you would like to learn more regarding their work I would suggest following their accounts & contacting them to learn more! Also, I apologise for the quality of the photos in advance

Assessing Lower Limb (LL) Function Matt Jordan – @JordanStrength

Matt’s presentation highlighted that injury isn’t measured in months but in years. We are often quick to put X number of months on the predicted return to sport but the reality is, it’s more likely years. Matt showed data from his athletes in which it took 2 years for symmetries to look like pre-ACLR injury & SSC numbers took up to 5 years.

When assessing ensure that you;

  • Measure what matters; 
  • Keep it simple
  • Anchor to your KPIs

From testing note that having an LL asymmetry is a predictor of a future knee injury but often on return from injury, it is the contralateral leg that is seriously injured.

Lower Limb Assessments

Establish a long-term lense to injury by having regular consistent testing allowing you to establish normative data for the athletes you are working with (neuromuscular & movement assessment).

Long term lense to injury

However, when testing, remember that injury is more about how quickly you can produce force over peak force production (0.5s to produce peak force but injury occurs much earlier).

In Summary

When assessing lower limb injury, measure what matters, keep it simple & anchor it to your KPIs. Develop a long-term lense to injury with normative data for whom you are working & don’t neglect the contralateral leg.

Movement Assessment in Youths, Paul Read – @paulread1010

Paul Read provided a review of the current literature on movement assessment in youths trying to assess if it is a practical form of assessment in predicting injury and if not what is.

Identifying what we can modify in our environments to reduce injury risk;

Non – Modifiable

  • Previous Injury
  • Rapid Growth

Partly – Modifiable

  • Fatigue
  • Early Specialisation

Modifiable

  • Neuromuscular Growth
  • Training Volume

We have all heard the phrase adolescent awkwardness used when working with youths but Paul highlighted that the phrase stems from one paper but from the literature he has looked into it in more depth and that we often overuse the term without fully understanding it.

Paul presented data in which knee control improved with maturity but pre-PHV demonstrated asymmetries in their right leg (a common theme in the conference).

Single leg CMJ asymmetry provided a significant prediction for future lower limb injury.

With other significant associations with knee injury below –

Paul noted that assessing movement is often an unreliable method to predict future injury due to the movement variability in each individual.

Movement variability – task outcome can remain the same but the path to get there varies.

When setting the task there are three components; 

Strategic – The approach taken to a task

Execution – Varying on how the task is completed.

Outcome – Was it successful or unsuccessful

Methods matter, in a study participants, performed a single leg hop with arms behind the back and arms how they liked and with the arms behind the back led to more asymmetries. Scrutinise methods when reading papers as they can impact results.

When using depth jumps use appropriate box height, relevant to how high they can jump.

In Summary

Movement assessments often aren’t a reliable method to predict future injury due to movement variability. Utilise single leg CMJ but ensure your methods are consistent.

Movement Dysfunction, Rob Walsh – @rwperformancecoach

Rob presented his approach to movement dysfunction, highlighting the point that as coaches we often focus on the small thing rather than the elephant in the room.

Movement Dysfunction broke down into 3 components;

Muscle imbalance consisting of;

Muscle tightness –

  • Structural / Mechanical Tightness (collagen has to remodel if the joint is blocked, which can take up to 6 weeks.)
  • Neurological Tightness (instantly)

Weakness –

  • Inhibited or delayed activation of a muscle.

& Poor Motor Pattern –

  • The movement pattern is responsible for the imbalance.

Here is an example of Rob’s movement screen (do barefoot to ensure standardisation).

In Summary

When assessing movement, we often look at the mice in the room (the little things) rather than addressing the elephant (big thing). Movement dysfunction can break down into muscle tightness, weakness or poor motor patterns.

What is Potential, James Baker – @jamesbaker_8

James presented the work he is doing out of Aspire Academy. Often, we collect data but fail to present it in a meaningful way that can be used by coaching staff. James shared how he and his colleagues had worked the data into a workable format that the coaching staff can interpret and use to make more informed decisions.

Additionally, the data collected emphasised the difference between individuals of the same chronological age but different maturity statuses.

Within his data James also shared how he ranked each individual not only on placement in age group but a maturity rank. A leading example of utilising data to add to youth physical development.

In Summary

Find what matters. Measure what matters. Change what matters. Data is useless unless it can be presented in an interpretable way to key stakeholders.

Programming and Periodisation, Matt Jordan – @JordanStrength

Matt shared his philosophy around programming and periodisation. When programming how can assess the response to training? It is important to understand when our athletes feel good!

Bundarchuk utilised the same sessions to predict the response in his athletes. When working with athletes with consistent training exposure will experience longer training residuals.

When looking at programming and periodisation we need to take allostatic load into consideration. 

Allostatic Load (Kiely, 2017) – Allostatic load refers to the cumulative burden of chronic stress and life events.

In utilising a standardised repeatable test, you can effectively assess fatigue. Matt used the CMJ with the 2 cues; hands on hips & jump as high as you can.

In Summary

Understand your athlete’s response to training through programming & periodisation while utilising standardised repeatable tests, such as CMJ to effectively assess fatigue.

Programming and Periodisation After Injury, Matt Jordan – @JordanStrength

Matt followed his programming and periodisation talk by developing it into his approach to rehab. Matt noted that we have an over-reliance on time when looking at a return to sport.

With half of the athletes who get an ACLR will return to pre-injury performance levels, we need to think of the recovery of the person as much as the return performance.

When planning rehab –

  • Load is medicine and poison, you need to find a balance.
  • Focus on what the individual can do, this will aid the psychosocial element of rehab.
  • Periodise rehab, as you would normal training.

When returning from injury you need to try and find the new load tolerances of the individual.

Matt’s return to performance

An Issue in Youths Today?

Are youths strong enough for sport? Youths today are demonstrating lower levels of strength than in previous generations therefore when looking to reduce injury risk do we know where they started from?

Are Youths today Strong Enough?
Matt’s Strength Priciples

In Summary

During the process focus on the person as well as the physical element. Load is medicine and poison but understand the athlete’s response to training to better your odds that future injury won’t occur.

The 24-hour Athlete, Rob Anderson – @ltadnetwork

Rob shared his practice in aiding the holistic development of youths that come into his program. What I liked about Rob’s presentation is it provided a wider view than just improving an individual’s physical qualities. By encouraging the youths in his program to form consistent habits he looks to develop performance habits in simple manageable steps.

Robs KPI’s –

  • Attendance
  • Movement Pathway
  • Performance Habits
  • Monthly Meetings
  • Quarterly Review

With Rob’s program, it was broken down into 3 stages, Foundation, Developmental & Performance. Rob kept the foundational stage simple with athletes working to a 3×6/8/10/12 rep scheme before moving up to the next exercise.

Note that your movement pathway has to be relevant to your environment.

Additionally, to their physical development, Rob had an emphasis on habit-forming away from the gym. Using work from James Clear (Atomic Habits), he noted that individuals will fall to our minimum rather than rise to their goals. Using the habit-forming process Rob provided a pathway similar to the movement pathway to instil general good habits that can be built upon.

To track this, he initially used the habit app, but then shifted to using team builder. Lastly, he ensured that he rewards these habits (that were not linked to performance) as it provided wins for those that are late bloomers or not as physically able.

In Summary

Youth development reaches further than the physical. Develop a holistic approach to youth physical development, promoting simple habits that can be compounded upon, later in their sporting journey.

Can we Reduce Injuries During the Growth Spurt? , David Johnson – @David_johnson11

Presenting his PHD research David spoke about the process of evaluating, identifying and intervening. Through multiple research studies, David highlighted that injury is more likely in PHV & also the injury burden is greater in PHV.

With the importance in academy football being available to play,  David presented evidence to show that if those in the high-risk category (PHV), missed a small period of training to participate in an altered training schedule (reducing overall ground contacts) then it could lead to more days available down the line. Small sacrifice for a larger gain.

A good point of reference for those in this high-risk category is to get individuals to work to a 3 out of 10 on the pain scale.

In Summary

Identify those at risk (PHV), intervene to mitigate that risk (reduce ground contacts) and evaluate the effectiveness of the intervention. Reduced availability for the short term can lead to more availability in the long term. The long term being a key point in LTAD!

Coaches Perceptions, Experiences and Management of Adolescent Growth & Maturation in Boys Academy Football, Megan Hill – @Meg_Hill13

From Megan’s research, she highlighted that in academy football there is a selection bias as early maturing individuals got more minutes and better match grades. The coach’s perceptions of players were impacted by match result, maturation status and peak height velocity. However due to the selection process being pinned on performance the early maturing players were often selected over the late maturing ones despite awareness of these biases.

During the questions, I asked Megan what she might think the solution would be? With discussion the scale of the solution is tricky due to the competitive nature of academy football, limited resources and time but a real-world issue we should look to address if we have LTAD at the heart of what we do.

In Summary

Selection bias exists regarding chronological age & maturity. The coach’s perceptions of performance can be swayed by age, growth & maturity but also by the match results. Despite awareness, we still have a bias due to the competitive nature of academy football.

Speed Development, Mike Young – @MikeYoung

Mike’s practical session was extremely informative in the hall (track & the gym). Firstly, Mike spoke through his principles of acceleration & max velocity.

During the lockdown period, Mike worked with his athletes and experimented with some programming to get the most out of his loading strategies. Mike spoke about how we often put too much emphasis on lifting concentrically and often underutilise the eccentric & isometric loading strategies. If we aren’t utilising all three then the athlete may not be reaching their full capabilities.

Mike spoke through his normal progression of loading;

  1. Submaximal concentric/eccentric/ isometric
  2. Maximal concentric + sub-maximal eccentric & isometric
  3. Max isometric or overcoming isometric (8-10sec) + heavy concentric
  4. Strong / Weak loading – utilising the concentric phase of the lift to overload the eccentric phase of the lift. For example, you can use a concentric deadlift to load an eccentric RDL (115% is effective for loading the eccentric phase).
  5. Shock

Additionally, can load eccentrically in multiple ways (see lunge example below) – 

Apologies Mike for my drawings!

In Summary

We often put too much emphasis on lifting concentrically and often underutilise the eccentric & isometric loading strategies. If we aren’t utilising all three then the athlete may not be reaching their full capabilities. Strong/ Weak loading to get bang for your buck!

Sonic Bone Assessment

The team at Sonic Bone presented their machine which can predict peak height velocity in a matter of minutes using ultrasound to assess skeletal age (equivalent to an x-ray but without the need for radiation exposure). Quick to assess and accurate results in minutes, I think we will see more of this in the future.

Conclusion

The weekend saw some brilliant speakers sharing their work and experiences. It was nice to get back to in-person conferences while also learning from some leading examples of long-term athlete development. From this blog, I hope you take insight from some of the content that was shared as I know I will be implementing numerous things upon returning to work in September.

Additionally it is important to not that these are my interpretations of the content shared & to gain more insight into the work each speaker is doing I suggest getting in contact with them.

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