The world of youth sports is as competitive as ever.
The notion that “more is better” is being forced down the throats of young athletes in an effort to be at the top of their game.
The problem? It’s not producing the results that were intended.
Coaches, parents, and trainers are pushing over-scheduled children into more specialized programs. Improvement is marginal and children are burning out and suffering from over-use injuries.
The result is an increase in non-trauma related injuries due in part to a lack of fundamental skill and athletic development.
According to the NCAA an average of only 0.16% of all High School Athletes move on to play in the professional ranks. With these kinds of odds, one would think the primary focus of activity for our young athletes would be overall development and fun. In most cases, it’s not.
Seriously, think about an average day or week of your young athlete…6 to 7 hours of school followed by 1 and sometimes 2 separate sporting practices, homework and then off to bed. All to be repeated the next day. Add in lack of sleep, poor nutritional habits and no social outlet and this paints a very scary picture.
Yes, times and society has changed. Yes, there is a lack of free play and more emphasis on academics. Yes, there is a shift from recreational sports to high pressure club and travel teams. But, all in all, there is one constant…Kids are still developing and constantly changing human beings. They need be dealt with accordingly.
So parents…what’s the solution?
1.) Slow and safe before fast and fancy. Beware of any program, team or skills clinic that is not based in a well-rounded variety of fundamental skill development. The younger the athlete, the more basic the activities and should have the most emphasis on encouragement and fun.
2.) Age appropriate. Look for programs that treat your young athletes right.
- 6-9 year olds should be exposed to outcome based coaching. Outcome based coaching utilizes very little cueing or technique modifications if any.
- 10-13 year olds should be introduced to outcome based coaching as well with about 25% more actual coaching of skill sets with simple instructions.
- 14 year olds and up should be coached with more emphasis on skill development with injury prevention and long-term success and the primary goals.
3.) Back off. 3-4 games in one day is needless. Practices 6 days per week for 2-3 separate sports teams is a very real scenario and needs to be avoided. A young athlete in this situation engages in more structured practices than professional athletes and they are no doubt headed for injury. Reduce an over-loaded schedule and allow for rest, recovery and…wait for it…time to be a kid.
4.) Think long term. Over scheduling and over specializing will place a premature cap on achievement and will cause over use injuries. Developing even the most talented young athletes takes time and no short cuts can be taken. Allow and encourage your athletes to play multiple sports to minimize repetitive motion injuries and over compensation.
To hammer this home. Let’s use our education system as an analogy. A child who seems to be skilled in mathematics would not be encouraged to drop other subjects and only concentrate on math. In addition, having great success in math in 1st grade would not result in skipping grades 2-6 to engage in 7th grade algebra.
Skipping steps will only result in a lack of ability and increase the risk of injury.
When in doubt, think of moderation and variety and create as much time for un-coached play time as possible. No matter the age…play and fun is a great way to stay active. As stated above, the odds of “going pro” are limited so make sure you are setting your children up to live an active life, loving exercise.