Long Term Athlete Development in Combat Sports
Since the beginning of our fight team we have consistently followed a long-term development program for our fighters. The Long Term Athlete Development (LTAD) Program is commonly found in elite level sports but is often ignored in the world of Fight Sports.
Stages in Fighter Development
The first stage in our system is to make sure the students have a solid foundation in the fundamental skills before progressing onto sparring in the gym. If they train consistently they can then progress to local inter-club/novice sparring events. After that they can move on to amateur fights and then finally onto Professional fights.
Why do we follow this structure?
We want to produce world-class competitors not just fighters who can win at local level events. Some coaches don’t believe its necessary to follow a long term system like this. They believe their fighters are already good enough to go straight to Professional fights. In my opinion taking short-cuts in this area may seem like a good idea in the short term but can seriously damage the long term prospects and growth of a fighter.
Learning about your fighters
One of the reasons we follow this Fighter Development Program is because we learn just as much from the novice level events as the fighters do. Coaches can learn the strengths and weaknesses of their fighter, how they perform under pressure, how they respond to coaching and instructions during the fight and what areas they need to work on and improve upon as a team before the next event.
Improving your coaching
Becoming an effective coach takes constant learning, practice and evolution. Novice fights are a great opportunity for the coach learn how to best warm up the fighters, what instructions to give before and during the fight, how to adjust strategy during the fight and learning about how the fighter copes with and responds to the stress and pressure of competition.
Development of the Fighter
Becoming a great fighter is a long process. Novice fighters need to make mistakes and learn from them. They need to try new things in an arena where there is less risk if it goes wrong. Mistakes in Novice fights are no big deal. They are actually beneficial because they highlight areas of you game that will need improvement before you step up to professional fighting.
The Cost of Making Mistakes
If you make those same mistakes in professional fights there is usually an additional risk of serious injury as you will be up against much better opponents. There’s also a risk to your career as a professional fighter of losing your fight contract, losing your motivation and confidence and ultimately derailing your career before its even started.
Taking time to develop as a fighter
Novices are not ready to jump into Professional fights straightaway. Not everyone is cut out to be a fighter. Novices need the opportunity to figure out if the sport is actually for them. They need to gradually experience the fear, stress and adrenaline dump in a safer environment. The fighter can then begin to figure out how to deal with the pressure of competing, managing the stress, fatigue and fear and learn to not let these factors affect his performance in the fight.
Better for the sport
I believe it’s detrimental to combat sports to have first timers fighting on professional events. The public shouldn’t have to pay to watch fighters who haven’t yet mastered the basics skills of the sport. Seeing first timers with no amateur experience fighting on professional fight shows makes fighting sports look amateurish. Fighters should have a minimum of 10 matches away from the public eye before stepping into the ring in front of paying spectators.
I believe taking short-cuts may seem like a good idea to some young up and coming fighters who want to make a name for themselves but will ultimately cost them a lot in terms of their long term development and future prospects in the sport.