It is no secret that youth athletics is a multi-billion dollar industry in North America. From uniforms to team fees, parents are more willing than ever to invest in their children’s future through athletics. As with any worthy investment, there are significant amounts of variables to put into consideration. Often, both parents and athletes are left feeling burnout, exhausted and confused. What started as an enjoyable hobby soon becomes an overwhelming and increasingly stressful focus of an athlete’s life. I have personally seen the majestic power of youth athletics in developing character and elevating confidence. With that being said, I have also seen the destructive potential of many unintentional fallout. Here are a few ways to ease the burden and ignite the passion.
Quality Over Quantity
Time is precious, for both parents and athletes alike. Many sports require numerous weekly practices with a concurrent and demanding game schedule. Adding into account traveling and preparation time, the end sum could be quite substantial. For coaches, practices should be well organized and time efficient. Longer practices does not yield better athletes. Often, it is counterproductive, especially with younger athletes. For athletes, without diminishing the importance of repetition, please understand that doing something in a focused and correct manner 10x will always be better than doing something half-heartedly 1000x. Practice makes permanent. A poorly executed motor skill repeated again and again will only lead to the reinforcement of that poor motor skill. Do it right and do it consistently. Moreover, take time to recover, because motor learning cannot take place if the body is fatigue.
Invest in a Good Strength and Conditioning Program
Consider a solid sport specific strength and conditioning program as both a catalyst for growth and an insurance policy. Numerous research has highlighted the neuromuscular benefits of strength training and its advantageous effect on motor learning. Concurrent research has also demonstrated the proactive effects that strength training has on preventing injuries and reducing injury recovery time. It is also a good time for an athlete to track his strength and performance gains. Objective gains will lead to subjective gains. Athletes that are consistent in their strength training are always more confident, determined and tenacious than their counterparts.
Bring Back Play
Gone are the days of neighborhood street hockey and pick-up hoops. Most young athletes live a life of structure and routine, that can at times be dull and unfulfilling. Kids need to have fun. They need time to be away from and engage in activities other than their primary sport. The fastest way to burn out a young athlete is to be relentlessly engaged in one activity, day after day, year after year. Many sports transfer quite well with no interference (i.e. Hockey, Soccer, Lacrosse, Rugby), especially in developing general motor skills and hand eye coordination. An athlete that has balance in all aspect of their life will be happier and more motivated.
The End GOAL
Whether it is a scholarship, a professional contract or simply for fun and social development, both athletes and parents need to know the end goal for that athlete in a given sport. This is where expectations and boundaries are set. Too often, the athletes are displaced from the decision making process. An athlete’s desire to play and succeed should be the primary consideration for goal setting regardless of the level of play. Respecting an athlete’s goals is the best way to support and uplift an athlete to achieve those goals.
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