LTAD for Coaches

Prior to reading this section it is recommended that you review the LTAD Overview section and understand the defined terms.

As a water polo coach you are already aware that an athlete progresses through various developmental stages where they have to learn various skills and tactics - you have to learn how to eggbeater before you can pass and shoot, for example.  As a coach, you have a general feeling and understanding of the needs of your team and how they need to progress throughout the season - this is what we refer to as the “art of the coach”.  Now imagine we can provide your artistic coaching side with the scientific knowledge of bringing an individual athlete in a team sport environment from playground to podium!  Taking an athlete within your club and thinking outside your 10-12 month season and developing the best athlete he or she can be over the long-term (senior age for example).

The Long-Term Athlete Development (LTAD) model takes the art of the coach and integrates this with the science behind growth and development, planning and periodization and the windows of accelerated adaptation.  The water polo in Canada LTAD model has developed stages of development based on the developmental age of an athlete, which is subsequently based on the physical, emotional, mental and cognitive maturity of the athlete.  With this in mind, there are certain physical skills (technical, tactical, strength, speed, flexibility, stamina, etc.), motor skills (balance and coordination) and mental skills that need to be trained at specific points in an athlete’s life.  There are periods in an athlete’s life (the sensitive periods of adapted acceleration) where the window for learning a specific physical and motor skill is wide open for optimal learning.

In most cases, you will have a large group of athletes, and within that group there will be athletes at many different stages of development - especially those coaching athletes from 12-17 years old as puberty and other growth factors play a role in athlete development.  As a coach it is important for you to understand where your athletes are within the water polo in Canada LTAD model.  Planning a practice and creating an annual plan should vary for each athlete within each stage of development.  This is where the art of coaching becomes instrumental as the coach has to create individual training plans within a team environment.  Club coaches need to be working closely together to monitor the growth of the athletes and their stages of development and provide them with age appropriate training and competition so the athlete (not the team) can be the best he or she can be over the long-term.

So what does it mean for a club coach to be implementing LTAD?  Here are some helpful tips in implementing LTAD:

  1. Know how to measure your athletes.  Not just skill testing, but what is the true developmental age for each of your athletes.  See The Role of Monitoring Growth in Long-Term Athlete Development for helpful measuring tools.  Understand how to place each athlete within your group at the various LTAD stages and train them appropriately.

  2. Be cognitive of the relative age effect.  The relative age effect exists because age group cut-offs are based on December 31st , and therefore, athletes born in the first three months of the year will have a maturation advantage during the rapid growth years (approximately 12-17 years old) over those born later in the calendar year (the late maturers).  Understand what skills (physical, motor and mental) need to be trained at each LTAD stage.  See the WPC LTAD overview document “The pursuit of excellence and an active lifestyle” for more details.  Know the optimal times to train certain skills and when certain physical skills should not be trained because of growth considerations (during puberty for example).  Create training plans for athletes so that when the relative age effect is not present anymore (after puberty and the rapid growth years) that all athletes had an equal opportunity to develop as the late maturing athletes are usually left out.

  3. To be an expert in any field (sport included) a person needs thousands of hours of deliberate practice.  Deliberate training is not just about showing up at the pool and jumping in the water.  It is training that specifically focuses on areas that need improvement.  Feedback needs to be instant - feedback is not only the coach verbalizing the improvements needed, it is the ability of the athlete to identify the errors and see a positive outcome for the correction of the errors.  For this to occur athletes need to train more than they compete and they need appropriate competition (sometimes less is more) to assess the effectiveness of their training.  See Competition is a Good Servant, but a Poor Master and Competition Review for information on training and appropriate competition.

  4. Planning and periodization needs to be done as a club so there is a harmonious flow from each group within the club.  Coaches need to work together for the long-term benefit of each individual athlete so when they progress from one group to another they are effectively moving through each LTAD stage.  Failing to plan is planning to fail!

  5. Understand the coach development model.  The water polo coach education system is called the National Coaching Certification Program (NCCP).  Coach training is based on the type of athlete you are coaching.  Water Polo Canada is developing coach education programs for each LTAD stage.  Coaches should be trained and certified for each coaching context that is relevant to the athlete they are coaching.  For example, a coach who trains a 12 and under and a 14 and under group should be trained as the Community Club Coach and certified as the Competitive Coach.  Please visit the NCCP Overview for more information on coach education.  Please continue to check this page on a regular basis as updates will be made on a regular basis.



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


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+

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