Long Term Athletic Development: Considerations Within Tennis – A Practical Approach, Part One

Long Term Athletic Development (LTAD) refers to an athletic progression in young people that improves their health, wellbeing and physical performance, reduces their risk of injury, and enhances their psycho-social development.

This multifaceted, non-linear process requires coaches and sport scientists to be adaptable and to understand how children’s anatomy and physiology varies (Lloyd et al., 2016).

Recent evidence regarding LTAD has been published, with updated position statements from various organizations and highly respected practitioners (Faigenbaum, 2017, Ford et al., 2013, Lloyd et al., 2016).

The aim of this blog post is twofold: 1) To highlight the challenges many tennis center coaches face, including coaching large groups of young people with a huge range of chronological, biological and training ages, and 2) to point out how can they apply LTAD evidence in a daily and long-term basis in their coaching programs.

Consideration One: Motor skills and strength are the foundations.

Figure 1. U16 Mesocycle for Training to Compete Phase U16 Group   High, Medium, Low

The development of technical skills in tennis requires the ability to produce and reduce force through a synchronized neuromuscular coordinated action. Not having this base of solid motor skills and strength increases a young athlete’s risk of injury (as well as their developing a negative association with tennis).

The implementation of a strength and conditioning program, or a “multiskills” (SCM) program, can provide a long-term solution to tennis centers. Sessions can vary, based on ages, from 30 minutes before or after the tennis session for younger players (combining fundamental movement skills within a game-based approach) to more structured and individualized sessions, multiple times a week as part of tennis squads or stand-alone sessions. These sessions will have greater emphasis on tennis-specific training as players get older (Figure 1).

Alternative activities within a structured program can provide a necessary diversity, help develop fundamental movements skills, may reduce the risk of injury, and provide “time out” from the challenges associated with larger volumes of tennis training. Examples of these activities include yoga, rock climbing, and/or team based games within the program (Figure 1).

For this to be effective it requires long-term planning from a range of parties, including the tennis manager, coaches and sport science support team involved. Coaches must also have a philosophy or “vision” that can be communicated to the parents and players. It is essential that parents of players are educated about the benefits of SCM. This can be done via the use of traditional methods such as information or a parents’ evening, or using screencasts and webinars as alternative options (Figure 2).

Within the everyday setting, the warm-up period can be a very effective time to deliver SCM. This may involve 10-15 minutes of fundamental motor skills – from hopping, jumping and landing to working on tennis-specific movements. The dynamic warm-up also creates an effective time to develop lunging, pushing, pulling, bracing, rotating or hinging exercises, the cornerstone of strength training. Effective progressions and regressions can be used to challenge players of all ages. Furthermore, providing players with “home workout” or “on the road” training cards can also provide a simple, yet effective method to integrate SCM at an everyday level across a large number of players. This can be set as “homework” or as the “coach’s special” (see Consideration Four – “Embrace the teaching” – in an upcoming entry in this series).

Figure 2: Screencasts can be an alternative option to provide parents with information.

Consideration Two: Tennis Centers can be used as hubs to promote lifelong health and well-being.

The NSCA Position Statement (2016) below explains health and well-being is one of the ten pillars of LTAD.

“Health and Wellbeing of the Child Should Always Be the Central Tenet of Long-Term Athletic Development Programs”

Tennis centers and coaches have an important role in understanding and nurturing the benefits that tennis can have on the health and wellbeing. This extends to the holistic elements that are inherent in the sport – the cognitive, affective and lifestyle elements. Tennis centers and coaches can provide an environment for psychological and physical development alike.

Process-oriented goal setting with players can be one way to achieve this in the short, medium and long term (Lloyd et al., 2016). For example, at the start of the term, players who attend regular coaching but play a lower volume of tennis can set simple process goals; they can be written down and reviewed at the end of each term. This may be just one technical, tactical, mental or physical goal. Players with higher training volumes can set more detailed goals; these goals can focus on developing several areas, and achieving certain outcomes.

The language coaches use is also very important. The goal is to communicate in a way that encourages a growth mindset and taking on challenging scenarios. This could take the form of praising a strategy a student comes up with to develop a technical area. Or it could be to reinforce the positive of being unable to perform a task. Here are some examples:

  • “I like the way you worked out how to get more top spin on the ball from that position; what did you do?”
  • “Great work keeping your shoulders back during that deadlift; how did you know to do that?”
  • “I really like how you maintained focus throughout today’s session and really worked on the theme of our session.”
  • “You can’t quite manage that power clean technique yet, let’s just work on that start position and it will come.”

Within longer term planning, setting out sessions where the players are the “teachers and coaches” can be one way to develop the feelings of autonomy to facilitate learning. This could be a week where players are given a challenge such as setting up an injury reduction circuit or planning the week’s lessons linked to the current theme in the mesocycle. This will help create a motivational climate that players can embrace.

Longer term planning may involve the organizing sport science workshops – such as nutritional and mental skills workshops – and incorporating them into the programs to support player development. This can either be done through workshop or online media, and may be scheduled monthly (Figure 1).

Workshops should first promote the health and well-being of young people. Players can learn topics related to mental skills or healthy eating, and how those areas will help them throughout their lives. More performance related strategies can be studied in workshops for players competing regularly in the sport. Some workshops can be open to all players and parents, where others may be tailored to specific target groups. As mentioned above, this requires well-structured macro and mesocycles with tennis managers, coaches and the sport science team supporting the tennis center.

This first entry in our blog post series is to discuss the evidence of LTAD and how it can be implemented within tennis centers – with focus on motor skill and strength development. It dovetails with the vision that tennis centers can be used as hubs to promote health and wellbeing to young people every day and longer term. Part two will focus on other considerations, including “embracing the teaching “and “monitoring/assessment tools for young players.”

For more info on this subject, please check out:


Faigenbaum, A.(2017). Resistance exercise of youth: survival of the strongest. Paediatric Exercise Science, 29(1), 14-18.
Ford, P., De Ste Croxi, M., Lloyd, R., Meyers, R., Moosavi, M., Oliver, J., Till, C. and Williams, C. (2016).The long term athlete development model: physiological evidence and application. Journal of Sport Sciences, 29(4), 389-402.
Lloyd, R., Cronin, J., Faigenbaum, A.D., Haff, G., Gregory, H., Kraemer, W.J., Micheli, J.l., …Oliver, J. (2016). National Strength and Conditioning Association position statement on long-term athletic development. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 30 (6), 1491-1509.

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