Michael Reid
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Training to Win:
Long Term Athletic Development Part III

In this monthly series of articles, Mike will discuss the science and practice of physical training for Water Polo. Strength, flexibility, Water Polo science, rehab and other areas of interest with respect to the physical development of the Water Polo athlete will be covered.


Long Term Athletic Development (LTAD) acts as a road map to aid the coach in optimizing the training affect in their athletes of all ages.

Below is from part I of this series:

LTAD is a model rooted in science which attempts to optimize training, competitions and recovery based on the athletes maturation and biological development. It views the athlete as more then just an Olympic prospect but takes into account the entire life cycle of the person, hence the title of this article (birth to master …).”

In part I, FUNdamentals and Learn to Train were discussed with some examples specific to Water Polo. FUNdamentals is generally from the ages of 6-9 years and is focused on fun! It is a period of time when children participate in a variety of programs with a focus on developing physical literacy in a fun, non-threatening environment, therefore formal competition is essentially non-existent at this age.

Learn to Train occurs at approximately ages 9-12 in boys and 8-11 in girls. These athletes are ready to begin more formalized training, but the focus should still be on general sports skills with training in a variety of different activities.

In part II we got into the teen years with the Training to Train and Training to Compete stages. Training to Train places higher demands on developing a base of conditioning (i.e. aerobic, speed, flexibility and strength) while still focusing on skill development. Training to Compete is typically when the athlete will specialize in one sport with even further increased training and competition demands. Water Polo organizations around the world commonly split this stage into two so that you have one stage encompassing the high school age athlete and the second stage being the college or  junior national team athlete.

In this article I will discuss a stage that many will aspire to but few will ever reach, Training to Win. This stage is the domain of the elite or professional athlete. In North America, these are the national team athletes competing at World Championships and Olympic games.

Like the previous articles in this series, much of the information below has been gathered from http://www.canadiansportforlife.ca/.


Water Polo Canada’s LTAD model calls this stage Living to Win. This is a very descriptive name because for all intensive purposes, these are full-time professional athletes. Their life or “job” is centred around training and competing. The sport skills are already developed and a broad base of physical training has taken place over the previous years. Training is characterized by high intensity and volume with a large proportion of time devoted to competition whether that be in the form of drills or actual matches.

These athletes are many times walking a fine line between high level performance and being injured  or sick. This is due to the physical, psychological, emotional, nutritional and even financial stress placed on the athlete on a daily basis. Stress is stress, it doesn’t really matter where it comes from and as the stress levels increase athletes at times will surpass their own individual capacity which may display itself in the form of a chronic injury, illness or psychological/emotional distress. This brings up two important features of this stage: the use of ancillary services and carefully planned breaks from training.

Ancillary services are any other professionals or clinicians outside of their sport team that the athlete will utilize to aid in their performance. These professionals/clinicians may include nutritionists, psychologists, physiotherapy, massage therapy, sport doctors and strength coaches.

The use of planned breaks is essential for long term health of the athlete. Coaches at this elite level will commonly use double or triple periodization schemes where a younger athlete may just use single periodization.

What is a double or triple periodization? It is basically splitting the season up into two or three mini-seasons with two or three peaks respectively.


Triple Periodization (Source)


Single Periodization(Source)

Triple periodization could be used for many Water Polo teams at this level because major competitions occur through out the year. For example, the Canadian mens team have this on their schedule for the next few months:

  • Jan 2011 Qualification Tournament for 2011 World Championships (which they qualified for)
  • July 2011 World Championships (top 4 teams qualify for 2012 Olympics)
  • Oct 2011 Pan American Championships (Gold medallist qualifies for 2012 Olympics)

As you can see, these are all serious tournaments with each one requiring a separate period of preparation and training. Very likely the team would get some additional recovery time after each of these tournaments to re-energize for the upcoming phase.

How long are planned breaks? Maybe anywhere from 1-3 weeks, but it really depends on the coaches and how they plan their season. Some may prefer giving infrequent but longer breaks while other may give shorter breaks but more of them. Of interest with this team and many other national teams is that there are players training at home and those who are playing professional in Europe. This means the athletes playing abroad get no additional recovery time even though they are very likely competing more often then the players training at home. This is another important aspect of this stage, individualization of training. It would be very possible that the athletes playing in Europe will get some extra recovery time when they come back to Canada after their professional season is finished. This is certainly something that is also similar to the USA team with some members training in the USA while others play professionally abroad.


Many if not most competitive athletes dream of playing for their country in the Olympics but even though many aspire to be there few ever actually make it. This is the Training to Win stage of the LTAD model.

Summary of Training to Win:

  • National Team or Professional Athletes (Olympic/World Championships)
  • Training is characterized by high intensity & high volume
  • Larger proportion of time is spent in competition (formal & informal)
  • Double & Triple Periodization commonly used
  • Ancillary Services are critical for athlete health
  • Usually several periods of recovery time are given through out year

In the next article and last article of this series, I will discuss the last stage of the LTAD model the Active for Life stage.

But for now, I invite the coaches here at WPP to suggest how a program at this level could remain intense for a full season. All coaches are welcome to the discussion (I will post a thread on the WPP forum).

If you have questions you want answered please leave them in the message board category “Physical Training with Mike Reid

I can also be contacted through my website: www.waterpolotraining.net


British Water Polo. LTAD brochure. Download link:British Water Polo LTAD

Hill Dave, U18 National Team Mentor Coach, Water Polo Canada. Personal Communication. January 9, 2011.

James Mandigo, Nancy Francis, Ken Lodewyk. Physical Literacy Concept Paper: Ages 0 – 12 Yrs.

http://www.canadiansportforlife.ca, Download this Document.

Water Polo Canada LTAD model. download link: https://www.waterpolo.ca/admin/docs/clientuploads/LTAD/LTAD_V1.2.pdf