The 5 things that can hold a young athlete back from optimizing their athletic potential
Young athletes can present a unique situation to coaches and parents alike when it comes to their athletic development. While they are certainly very capable at their chosen sports and can see incredible progress in relatively short periods of time there are some things to consider that may be holding them back. Here are the top 5 mistakes that are too common in youth athletics:
- Specializing in only one sport: This problem can be seen in any sport at any level and it is quite a sad one. It usually starts with a young athlete hearing a story about how a legendary sports figure dedicated themselves to a sport at a young age and developed into a super star. Sadly, while this may have worked for Tiger Woods and the Williams sisters, it can have negative effects for the rest of the 99.9% of the population. Picking one sport at a young age only exposes the athlete to the demands of that sport and can place some serious stresses on their developing bodies. Not to mention that the athlete is also at an increased risk for mental fatigue or a complete disinterest in a sport that they once loved.
- Jogging to get “in-shape”: The real question to ask is “in-shape” for what? Unless the athlete is running on the cross country team, they are only training to get slower. Every other sport besides cross country or other long distance type events asks the body for short explosive bursts of energy followed by a recovery period so that they may have another athletic energetic burst. Jogging may have worked for “Rocky” and “Rudy,” but the truth is it will only make you slower. Practice and train the way you play. But be careful, this leads our next performance strangler.
- “Sport Specific” Training: This misnomer comes from good intensions, but has been turned into something it shouldn’t. What sport specific training should be is correcting imbalances caused by playing a sport, such as a baseball player with an overused shoulder not doing certain overhead exercises. However, what sport specific training has become is mimicking certain skills specific to a sport in a training environment. This is not productive and at times dangerous. The purpose of training is to create better movement and energy utilization by the body; let the sports specific development benefit from that improvement on the field!
- Putting adult values on kids: An 11 year old is an 11 year old. They need to train and play sports like an 11 year old. While it may be tempting to have them work on things taken seriously at the college and professional levels it can be detrimental to their overall athletic development. While it may make little Suzy the best 11 year old golfer in town because she’s been working at hitting the ball straight down the fairway; doing so may have caused her to miss out on her power development phase (6-8 years and 11-13 years) and inhibit her at age 18 when the rest of the kids have learned to not only hit the ball straight, but can hit it further!
- Overuse of “drills”: There is this misunderstanding in sports that somehow drills will create a better athlete or team. While there is a place for drills, they should not take up an entire training session or practice, which is often the case in youth athletics and youth speed and agility training. This plays into some other topics as well due to the fact that what you see on the internet that the local professional or even high school team is doing during practice is probably only a snapshot of that practice or training session and cannot simple be randomly inserted into a training session for a group of 10 year olds. Doing this will only confuse the athletes and certainly not aid in their development. Speed and agility training, just as sports practices need to follow specific progressions in order to optimize their athletic development.
So there you have the top 5 mistakes currently being made in youth athletics that are preventing children from reaching their athletic potential. It is important for coaches, as well as parents, to get out of the way of development and just put the young athlete in the best environment possible to allow that to happen. The results will speak for themselves.