Training Young Athletes

1aI recently read an article on coaching kids and parenting and related some of the key points to my own challenges as a parent as well as what we see every day here at RPP.  It’s a challenging time to be a parent.

Times have changed since I was a kid and playing sports. Here are some observations (from a parent/coaches point of view).

  1. There were no travel teams
  2. Not everyone got a trophy (we got over it…)
  3. Cell phones and texting
  4. Less human interaction

Basically kids respond to a different style of coaching thus, parenting skills must be different as well. Overzealous, pushy, high pressure parenting has increased as quickly as the burn out rates in teen athletes.

A typical youth that walks in through our doors on day 1 generally isn’t as athletic as we used to be.

Basic movement skills are being “skipped over” during practice, creating asymmetries and more kids coming in with histories of extensive injuries.

Young athletes who play “year round games” are a bit de-sensitized to the overall training process. Everything gets viewed as another game or practice.

Although we’re not going to halt technology and travel teams aren’t going anywhere, we can adjust our behavior surrounding them and how we interact with our kids with respect to their athletic careers. All kids are good kids we never have problems here with kids, but I’ve learned a lot about interacting with my own daughter through parents who have young athletes who are well mannered and successful while training in our facility. Here we go:

1. Play more than one sport

Don’t worry about specializing in a particular sport until High school, studies show that early specialization doesn’t work. Because of repeated motor patterns, kids are more likely to get injured, 82% of the top athletes in the U.S. actually played multiple sports in High School.

2. Over reacting or under reacting

Sports are supposed to be fun. If a kid works their butt off but loses, talk about the value in the process, not the destination they didn’t reach. Parents who scream and then sit in silence the whole ride home are the single most reason kids give up sports.

On the other hand, kids showing up late, being rude to coaches etc. should hear about it. Siding with your kid when they’re lazy or rude sets a very dangerous precedent.

3. Losing can be a great lesson

With more and more tournaments being round robin and double elimination formats, we are developing a generation of kids who are being de-sensitized to losing .If they lose on team A, it doesn’t matter because team B has a game less than 24 hours later. Losing is a part of life, but we shouldn’t be satisfied with it. We should work hard and learn from it so it doesn’t happen again. This also carries over into life.

4. Watch games, not training

Kids are much less outgoing while parents are watching. By all means go to games and cheer kids on, but don’t hang out at training sessions.  It’s more distracting to your child (and the coach) than you think.

5. Set an example

Parents who stay in shape and exercise are more likely to have kids who do the same. I love it when parents come in and work out while their kids are training. Don’t think they don’t notice it.

6. Don’t brag about your kid

If you’re proud of your kid tell them so. But don’t be a bragger. There’s a difference between bragging and giving coaches valuable feedback about your son/daughter.

7. Don’t tell coaches to “kick his butt!”

If your child is lazy by their teenage years, he’s likely been getting away with murder for years and not being held accountable. By coaches “kicking his butt”, you increase the risk of injury, and the likelihood your child will hate exercise and develop a sedentary life style. I will however hold them accountable for actions in my gym.

8. Don’t allow conversations without eye contact

(no explanations necessary!)

9. Participation trophies.

We’ve started giving every kid a trophy rather than educating them that the true reward comes from knowing they did the best they could. Instead, everyone gets the “same” trophy. Yes, even the kid who shows up late and swears at the coach gets the same trophy as yours who tried their hardest and was respectful and a good sport.

In closing, please don’t get me wrong, there are a lot of great things going on in youth sports these days. Girls are participating in sports more than ever before, there are lots of passionate coaches out there who love what they do, and sports medicine has improved immensely.

We have to remember that although less than 1% of kids who participate in youth sports will become a pro, sports are still an outstanding medium through which to instill great qualities beyond just athleticism.