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Embracing the LTAD FUNdamental Stage in BJJ: A Guide for Coaches and Parents

BJJ students training with LTAD Fundamental principles

The concept of Long-Term Athlete Development (LTAD) has become a cornerstone in modern sports coaching, emphasizing the importance of age-appropriate training to foster lifelong athleticism and skill. At the heart of LTAD lies the FUNdamental stage, a critical period in an athlete's development that focuses on building a broad base of skills and instilling a love for the sport. This approach is particularly relevant in the context of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu (BJJ), a martial art known for its complexity and technical depth.

For coaches and parents involved in BJJ, understanding the principles of LTAD can greatly improve the student's experience and progress. It's not just about teaching techniques; it's about nurturing well-rounded athletes who can adapt, learn, and enjoy the sport for life. Here we aim to delve into the FUNdamental stage of LTAD for BJJ, exploring how this model can be effectively applied to BJJ training to maximize the potential of young athletes.

In the following sections, we'll explore the essence of the FUNdamental stage, align BJJ training with its principles, and provide practical examples of activities that fit this critical phase of development. This guide will serve as a valuable resource for coaches and parents, helping them to foster a positive and effective learning environment for young BJJ athletes.

The Essence of the FUNdamental Stage

The FUNdamental stage of Long-Term Athlete Development (LTAD) is more than just an introductory phase; it's the foundation upon which an athlete's future in sports is built. This stage, typically targeting children between the ages of 6 to 9 years, is crucial for developing fundamental movement skills. It's about honing the basics – agility, balance, coordination, and speed – which are essential for any physical activity, including martial arts like Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu (BJJ).

Why It's Crucial in BJJ

In BJJ, where technique and body awareness are paramount, the FUNdamental stage plays a pivotal role. It's during this phase that young athletes learn to control their bodies, understand leverage, and develop the kinesthetic awareness necessary for more advanced techniques. The focus isn't just on BJJ-specific skills but on creating a well-rounded athlete capable of adapting to various physical challenges.

Aligning BJJ Training with FUNdamental Principles

To align BJJ training with the FUNdamental stage, coaches and parents should emphasize activities that promote overall motor skill development. This means prioritizing fun and engagement over competition and specialization. The goal is to create a positive, encouraging environment where young athletes can explore their abilities and develop a passion for the sport.

By nurturing these foundational skills, young BJJ practitioners are better equipped for future technical and tactical training, reducing the risk of injury and burnout. This approach aligns with the broader objectives of LTAD, which advocate for a holistic development pathway, ensuring athletes can enjoy and excel in their sport for many years.

BJJ and the FUNdamental Stage

Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu (BJJ), with its intricate techniques and emphasis on ground fighting, offers a unique platform to implement the FUNdamental stage of Long-Term Athlete Development (LTAD). This stage is about laying the groundwork for future success, and in BJJ, this translates to several key areas.

Emphasis on Skill Development

At the FUNdamental stage, the focus in BJJ training shifts from winning to learning. Coaches are encouraged to design sessions that prioritize skill development. This involves teaching basic positions, movements, and principles of leverage, which are central to BJJ. The aim is to ensure that young athletes build a strong technical foundation, understanding the 'why' behind each move.

Incorporating Fun and Engagement

Keeping training sessions enjoyable and engaging is vital. BJJ, with its playful nature of 'rolling' (sparring), can be made into a game-like experience for young practitioners. This approach helps in maintaining their interest and enthusiasm for the sport, crucial for long-term engagement and development.

Foundational Movements and Drills

Specific drills that focus on foundational movements are integral to BJJ training at this stage. These include exercises that improve balance, coordination, and flexibility – all essential skills in BJJ. For instance, drills like 'shrimping', 'bridging', and basic guard play not only enhance athletic abilities but also lay the groundwork for more complex BJJ techniques.

By aligning training with the FUNdamental stage, BJJ coaches can ensure that young athletes develop a solid base of skills, enjoy their training, and foster a lifelong love for the sport.

BJJ Specific Activities Aligned with FUNdamental Stage

In Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu (BJJ), aligning training with the FUNdamental stage of Long-Term Athlete Development (LTAD) involves incorporating specific activities that promote fundamental skills while being enjoyable and engaging. Here are some examples of BJJ-specific activities that fit into this stage:

Positional Sparring

  • Objective: Focus on learning to accomplish positional goals rather than winning rounds.

  • Activity: Short bouts where students start in a specific position and aim to maintain or advance it.

  • Benefits: Teach control, position awareness, and basic defense/offense strategies.

Introduction to Basic Submissions

  • Objective: Familiarize with the concept of submissions without competitive pressure.

  • Activity: Practicing submissions like armlocks or chokes in a controlled environment.

  • Benefits: Builds understanding of BJJ objectives and teaches respect for partner’s safety.

Movement-Based Games

  • Objective: Enhance agility, balance, and coordination in a fun setting.

  • Activity: Games like 'knee tag' and sweeping/passing rounds, where balance and coordination are challenged.

  • Benefits: Develop physical literacy in a playful manner, essential for BJJ.

Partner Drills

  • Objective: Develop cooperation and understanding of how to work with a partner.

  • Activity: Drills that require two students to practice movements and techniques together.

  • Benefits: Encourages teamwork, communication, and enhances technique through repetition.

Flexibility and Mobility Exercises

  • Objective: Improve range of motion and body control, crucial for BJJ.

  • Activity: Stretching routines and mobility exercises suitable for young athletes.

  • Benefits: Prevents injuries and aids in performing BJJ techniques effectively.

By incorporating these activities into training, BJJ coaches can ensure that young athletes not only develop the necessary physical and technical skills but also enjoy their learning process. This approach aligns perfectly with the FUNdamental stage, setting a strong foundation for future athletic and personal growth in the sport.


Embracing the FUNdamental stage in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu (BJJ) training, as outlined by the principles of Long-Term Athlete Development (LTAD), is crucial for fostering a positive and solid foundation for young athletes. This stage is not just about learning BJJ techniques; it's about developing a well-rounded athlete with a love for the sport, a strong technical base, and the physical skills necessary for future success. By doing so, they can create an environment where young athletes not only learn and improve but also enjoy their journey in BJJ. This approach lays the groundwork for a lifelong engagement with the sport, ensuring that young practitioners grow into competent, confident, and healthy athletes.

As BJJ continues to grow in popularity, the application of LTAD principles, especially the FUNdamental stage, becomes increasingly important. Coaches and parents have the opportunity to make a significant impact on the physical and psychological development of young athletes. By prioritizing a well-structured and enjoyable learning experience, they can contribute to the development of not just better BJJ athletes, but better individuals overall.

Interested in learning more about LTAD? Check out the definitive book Long Term Athletic Development by Istvan Balyi, Richard Way, and Colin Higgs.

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