To its supporters, the long-term athlete development philosophy that will determine the future of organized sports in Canada is seamless in its societal reach.
It promotes both everyday fun and elite excellence, two much-desired qualities in sport that are often made to seem contradictory. Not only that, LTAD also promises to keep Canadians more active throughout their lives, thereby cutting health-care costs while making us happier and more productive. No wonder Sport Canada has told the sports organizations it funds to implement the LTAD approach across the country.
But critics of the program wonder if LTAD is promising more than it can deliver.
“It’s an all-things-to-all-people kind of model,” says Jennifer Hardes, who studies sports sociology at the University of Alberta.
That sense of inclusivity plays well politically. But LTAD’s core goals are more narrowly focused, says Peter Donnelly, director of the Centre for Sport Policy Studies at the University of Toronto.
“Most of the funding in Canada still goes to the elite performance model, for selecting out talented young people for expensive special treatment in highly competitive sports systems,” he says. “There’s not so much encouragement to sustain participation by people who are not very good.”
Skill development may be encouraged among under-12s. But after that, a system designed to improve national-team performances will focus on talent above all.
Ms. Hardes likes the de-emphasizing of competition at an early age. But she wonders if the local coaches who are charged with implementing this top-down approach to sports policymaking have been given an active enough role.
“This is an attempt to homogenize coaching practices across Canada,” she says. “But it precludes the possibility that people can be creative and reflexive in their coaching.”