At Active Life Conditioning in Collingwood, Ontario, Long-Term Development (LTD) and physical literacy aren’t just buzzwords—both concepts are ingrained in their programs from naming to training.
Founded in 2001, the 20-coach training centre is a space for athletes, ranging from the everyday to the elite, to achieve better health and wellness. The centre’s mission? To provide space, “for clients to improve health, wellness and physical literacy while improving performance and increasing lifelong participation in physical activity in a safe yet challenging environment.”
Reinforcing Long-Term Development
So where does LTD come into play? Within the facility, Active Life offers several programs that actually incorporate LTD stages as part of their names and at the core of their teachings.
In the spring, kids ages 6-10 can experience the FUNdamentals program, where fundamental movement skills are taught by certified, experienced coaches. Owner Sarah Applegarth, whose own kids have been through FUNdamentals at Active Life and are now in their teens, has seen the direct benefits of those initial learnings.
“It’s been a big part of my kids' development—creating the proper running mechanics, jumping patterns, throwing with both hands, kicking with both feet, keeping a ball up with a tennis racket,” she said. “My daughter never played football growing up, but she’s now the quarterback on her high school flag football team because she learned how to throw a spiral when she was young.”
Active Life also has a Train to Train program; from there, the Intro to Performance, Performance, and Elite Performance programs are for athletes who are specializing in a sport. There is also a specialized Fit Girl option for those looking to work in a female-only environment.“We have all those building blocks, for sure,” Applegarth said.
Sport for Life’s website, and overall concepts, are often shared with parents throughout their kids' experience at the centre, to explain how the kids’ training benefits both participation in their preferred sport, and also their long-term commitment to physical activity.
When it comes to Long-Term Development itself, the concept isn’t anything Applegarth hasn’t seen before. She was one of the early proponents of the framework, having supported alpine skiing in developing its “AIM- Alpine Integration Model” framework in 1999—one of the first sports in Canada to implement.
Her work with Alpine Ontario followed several years of working with hockey teams and ski racers as a strength and conditioning coach and writing her own training programs for her own varsity hockey team at the University of Guelph—where her path in strength and conditioning began.
Promoting Physical Literacy
The prominence of physical literacy in Active Life’s programs is no different from LTD. The concept is weaved into—and reinforced through—Active Life’s programs, from a young age. It’s key to the essence of their programs.
“When you give those foundations of physical literacy to a young person, it allows them the opportunity to continue to be active for life—which is our company, Active Life. It allows that potential to play pickup hockey with other moms in the winter, or for a dad to join an intramural basketball league—that kind of thing,” Applegarth said.
“I believe in the core of my being that physical literacy sets you up to be able to participate in things that will, one, keep you healthy and active for life, but two, support the social aspect, the mental health of being around other people.”
For Applegarth, Active Life’s programs are a culmination of years of her passion for athlete development and physical activity. She holds a Master’s degree in adolescent exercise physiology and has been leading physical literacy programs and talks in her community, schools and local programs for years.
“Sport for Life’s work is right in my wheelhouse,” she said.
Building from the Foundations
That passion and commitment to community education helped grow her business from an individual strength and conditioning coaching endeavour to an innovative, 20+-coach and 10,000 square foot brick-and-mortar facility today, complete with outdoor training areas, studio space, sports medicine practitioners, youth summer camps and more. And still, LTD and physical literacy are at the core of what they do.
“Our philosophy is ‘life’s a sport’. We’ve brought the same style of training to all of our ages, from mature adults to kids. And we keep that element of play—for mental health and stress release, all of the things that adults need as well, that trickles into the way we train.”
Going forward, the goal at Active Life Conditioning is to keep building a community in Collingwood that values and focuses on the importance of the long-term development pathway and overall physical literacy.
“I’d like to get more involved in our community, keep offering talks about the importance of physical literacy, and how easy it is to build those things, especially in those young ages,” Applegarth said. “Kids are very much like sponges, ready to soak up that type of training, the key is to find ways to get in front of them and engage them. Unfortunately, one of the many impacts of COVID-19 that we have noticed has been the loss of many older adolescents from sport and activities. We need to ensure we keep the next wave of kids moving and active.”