Maximizing Your Role as a Parent in Youth Athlete Development
Over the past two years, youth sports along with almost everything else has been riddled with obstacles. Depending on the topic, you could argue that we’ve developed new, improved processes, cutting edge technology, and solutions to many problems that will likely stay. On the other hand you could argue that we’ve missed experiences, delayed education, and gone backwards with social skills and interaction.
As challenging as the last two years have been for us parents related to work setting, childcare, health, etc., we are over the hump of development. We have developed our skill set, our values, and many relationships. Our kids, although resilient, have missed out on experiences, development, opportunities, and social interaction. I see many who have rolled with the punches and an equal amount who have not. I look at our current state as an opportunity to reset priorities, evaluate what’s important in life and improve in areas I can control.
I am a trainer, a strength and conditioning coach, a nutrition coach, and hopefully even a mentor to some. By definition, I am a development guy. I don’t make cuts or choose the best. I meet everyone where they are and work WITH them to move in a specific direction. I see life like I see an annual training plan. Training is not just a good sweat, a new quick workout, or a fancy machine that takes you where you need to go. Training is a long term plan where each day plays a small but important role in the process. The sum of each day results in adaptation at the appropriate rate. Too much = injury, inflammation, burnout, etc. Too little = not enough stimulus to adapt. We cannot rush the process but modify as obstacles come up. There is no cheating the system to sidestep progressive consistency. You make investments each day, which may seem insignificant by themselves, but you will reap the long term reward.
Training is eerily similar to life, child development, and parenting. I think they alternate daily with difficulty! When my kids had their first season of 4yr old soccer, I fell into the trap. I had the same out of body experience that many of you have had. I found myself running up and down the sideline, sweating through my shirt, screaming cues and referencing skills that players don’t develop until they are 13… embarrassing. After I came to my senses and covid took some of it away, I realized how off I was with my approach. Our responsibility as parents is to put our kids on a track for future development. Whether the content and delivery of lessons are from us, school, coaches, or other resources, we are “managing” their direction with the choices we make for them. We determine what sports they play, what school they attend, what social setting we expose them to, etc. If we want our kids to develop the life skills to handle high school and beyond, it is up to us to come up with the “training plan”.
In training, I reference a pyramid, a continuum with each workout based on the last and preparing for the next. Each level of the pyramid has a concept and associated concrete goals that MUST be accomplished prior to move on to the next level. Some levels or phases may not seem important or fun while you are in them but they are critical for long term success. My job is to take the monotony, effort, and fatigue from long term development and present it in a way where I can get buy-in from my clients.
If I rely too heavily on extrinsic motivation (music, friends, tv show, weigh in, etc.) to get my
clients to do what’s needed… I have failed my job. They will be unsuccessful moving forward
when there isn’t any music to listen to or your workout partner is busy. I need them to find drive, the long lasting desire to improve and do what it takes when no one is watching.
A few days ago my 5 yr old was in the basement playing while I was biking indoors. I heard him counting to 100. I thought to myself, “Pretty good that he’s practicing kindergarten math lessons on his own.” I turned around as he neared the end to find him counting squats while holding a light dumbbell. Now neither one of us can remember if his team won his last soccer game or how many kids outscored him on his team. The age appropriate win was the connection he made between doing something uncomfortable and improving as a player for next season.
Create the Training Plan
So how do we construct a developmental plan as parents? First, we evaluate what is important and where we fall in our developmental pyramid.
1. Identify long term goals and work backwards. What does a company want from a new employee? What do college and high school coaches want from their athletes? What does a teacher want to see in a student? They will all list a set of skills needed and follow it up with a critical list of intangibles to succeed. These intangibles are your foundation. Some can be developed or learned at a young age. Some are more complex and take maturation. Below are the ones that I repeatedly hear from coaches along with ones that I value in developing athletes.
Willing to learn
2. Assess - Pick the goals (attributes / intangibles) that are of most value and age appropriate. Assess them. If the foundation of your developmental pyramid is missing critical pieces, your success will only last so long. Does my kid find ways to solve problems or do they get frustrated and move on to an easier task? Does my kid listen to instruction from content experts (teachers, coaches, etc.)? Does my kid take ownership of mistakes or lack of preparation? If the answers are “No”, double down in these areas. Working with athletes of all ages for the last 20 years, I’ve seen that these missing links hang around unless addressed. Time doesn’t cure all. Whether your kid is 7 or 14, face the issue. Create situations that bring up teachable moments. Embrace these! Can we begin by avoiding failure? Some of our best development comes from experiencing failure. Why would we want to miss out on this? I like to refer to them as opportunities. How these opportunities are handled is what’s important.
3. Become a General Contractor. When our kids are young, parents wear all of the hats. As time passes, we need to recognize what we should “sub out” in certain areas. Our role becomes more of a general contractor as our kids need content experts (tutors, skill coaches, trainers, counselors, etc.) in areas where we are not. Choose wisely here as these providers can be mentors or negative influences. Speaking from my lane, do you want a trainer that verbally beats down your kid and takes pride in seeing total exhaustion and fatigue… OR do you want someone that understands the balance of volume, intensity, recovery and adaptation? If your goal is to develop a skill specific to a sport, then seek out a great skill coach. If your goal is to develop discipline, self control, and confidence, then maybe martial arts is a great setting.
4. Balance Physical Development and Skill. Everyone has a different set of genes,
different hormone levels, different growth rates, etc. There is not a consistent answer to
when training needs should start or what the perfect program is for all 15 yr old kids.
Each body has different needs at different times throughout development. All bodies
need the physical building blocks before advanced techniques can be applied. As kids
participate in sports year after year, they develop a skill set for each. This skill set will
have a higher potential when it is based on proper basic fundamentals. Physical
development mirrors this concept. Proper movement is a skill set in itself! Physical
development has a higher potential when the foundational blocks are built.
Healthy nutrition habits
Aerobic health and endurance
Coordination / Body Awareness
For more information about age group appropriate physical goals and tips, watch the video below.
Now, this seems like a tall task to understand all of these areas as a parent. You don’t need to. Start with number 1 and 2. Realize that the critical pieces here are addressed through life
experiences. Often we are too involved, taking away the potential for teachable moments. These intangibles are not learned through comfort. They are not developed when you are the best on the team or on the best team in the league. They are developed through adversity, through facing challenges, through losing and coming back to play another day. We are not helping our kids grow by putting unrealistic expectations on them too early and avoiding situations that are difficult. I know it’s hard to watch your kid fail but we need to change how we define success. I encourage you to live in the present and understand what phase your kids are in. Identify the goals, focus on the intangibles, and don’t shy away from teachable moments.