I love all sports and I know that I
would not be where I am today without little league baseball, high school
wrestling and college football.
keeping kids out of trouble; sports give kids something positive to invest
their time in. Sports teach our kids team work and give them a feeling of
camaraderie. Sports instill a love of
movement and fitness that will motivate them and keep them healthy for the long
Most of all, I think sports give our kids confidence;
confidence to overcome obstacles in life such as losing a loved one or losing a job, or going
through a divorce. There are a lot of lessons learned in the loss of a game.
You must go back to work the next day and get better. Sports give you the
confidence to ask the teacher a question in school. Being on a sports team can
give your child the confidence to ask a girl out on a date, or to seek out a
better job or start a new business. I like to think that I am in the
“confidence building business”, not the athlete training business.
But in the past 10 years the landscape
of youth sports has taken a disturbing twist. I’ve had parents tell me “my kid
has no confidence, is uncoordinated, and is carrying too much body fat, can you
help me?” They also make comments like “my 10 yr. old has “set all the records
at his elementary school and he is going to be a star baseball player in
college and probably the major leagues”. When did we become so negative or set
such unrealistic expectations of our kids?
So I started
thinking…..This is a topic that I am passionate about and I happen to have a
ton of experience with. So after giving the topic much thought, and hours of
research and experience, here is my perspective.
a lot of athletes at Next Level (well over 400 last year). They range in age
from 7 to 70, although most of them are under thirty. Our young athletes all
want to reach their full athletic potential and most hope to play a sport in
college one day. When we evaluate them, we love to talk to them about their
goals and dreams and how we can help them.
Their goals range from making a professional
baseball roster to getting a collegiate scholarship. Some want to become a
starter on a local high school varsity team; some are just concerned with
making the JV team. We also train kids that are focused on getting into an Olympic
Development Soccer Program or making an elite travel baseball team. Personally, what really inspires me is the kid
who just wants to get off the bench and become a contributor on their
recreational team. They tell me “last year I didn’t get to play much, this year
I want to play”.
Parents want the best for their kids and it is
easy to get caught up in the process of developing elite athletes because the
programs start at such a young age. Parents are constantly being told “if you don’t
start young Timmy in a travel program by age 9, you might as well forget it”.
This creates a sport specific young athlete. Sports specific athletes at a
young age tend to incur overuse injuries and limited overall development (think
about a soccer athlete not learning to throw a softball or a baseball player
not learning how to change direction).
There is no doubt that some parents are
obsessed with living their own athletic dreams through their kids. They put a
lot of money, family time and energy into making that happen. The scheduling of
these kids activities can get really hectic sometimes. I have a rule at the gym that I try to stick
by; “if it takes longer than 15 minutes to schedule strength and conditioning
training sessions for your son or daughter, than your kid is probably too busy
to train at this time”. I pride myself on doing what’s right for the athlete, not
necessarily what’s going to make us the most money.
do we help our children reach their athletic potential and use athletics to make
their lives better? And how do we do that without them getting burned out,
injured, or drive them insane because they don’t live up to our expectations. Here are some basic guidelines that will help
you make the right decisions for your young athletes.
sports specificity before puberty: Recent research shows that selecting
one sport at a young age leads to overuse injuries and burnout. I see kids that
by the time they’re going off to college on a soccer scholarship, they are so
burned out that they don’t like their sport or their teammates! Have them play
at least 2 sports until they’re 14 or 15.
more than you play: Parents and young athletes today are so worried
about “being seen” that they don’t spend enough time getting better. I once
trained a legitimate Division One football prospect who attended a combine
every weekend in the spring until his hamstring tore trying to run his best 40
yard dash time for the 8th weekend in a row. He should have spent
more time training and getting ready for football season and less time
showcasing his 40 time. Getting a scholarship in athletics is like farming, you
keep focusing on getting better every day. If you become good enough someone will
to enjoy the process; I stole this one from Mike Krzyzewski, legendary
basketball coach at Duke University. He says that “all of the great ones learn
to enjoy and appreciate the practices, the weight training sessions and
targeted drills that make them better at their craft.
better every day: If you focus on becoming 1% better every day; over the
next 50 workouts, you’ll be a 50% better player than you are today. Most
athletes would take that in a heartbeat!
5. Don’t forget to have Fun: A lot of parents think their kid will be the
next Peyton Manning, Michael Jordon or David Beckham. I say” give ‘em a break, let
em be a kid, let em have some fun. Take em to the movies or the park or better
yet, take em on a family vacation!” The chances of them growing up to be a
sports icon are very minuscule. If they have the talent and the drive, they
will get there.
time off: I have trained professional football and professional baseball
players. Those guys take at least 2-3 months off after the season to let their
bodies recover and regenerate. On the flip side, I also know some 13 and 14 yr-old
athletes that haven’t had 4 straight weeks away from their sport in over a
year. Coaches claim that if athletes
don’t touch the ball, they’ll lose their skills. Ridiculous! Give them a week
or two of practice after some time off and they’ll be right back where they
left off. My biggest fear is that their
bodies won’t be able to hold up to the rigors of year round practicing and competing
and that the daily grind of the same drills day after day will force them out
of the sport.
your expectations: A very successful high school football coach once
said “As a parent you are not qualified to evaluate your own kid”. I think of
that quote when I’m at a game and a parent is screaming at his kid who is
giving great effort and just having a bad day. Or a parent is screaming at the
coach (who is volunteering his time) to put her kid in the game. Take a step
back and decompress.
vs Playing Cycles: Think in terms of 10-12 week intervals. An athlete
should play a season and train for a season, then play a season and train for a
season. By training, I mean 3-4 days per week of strength training, plyometric
and movement skills that are not always specific to their sport. This type of
program will enhance his or her overall athletic ability and help him reach his
potential injury free. It will also give them a great experience and keep them
loving sports and movement their whole life.
We all want the best for our kids. It’s our nature to fight for them and
give them every possible opportunity to reach their full athletic potential.
Just remember their potential might be different then your expectations.
Keep supporting your kids and their athletic
endeavors; it will pay huge dividends down the road, but they may not be the next
Stephen Strasburg, Mia Hamm or RGIII
(who by the way was still running hurdles while playing football until his
junior year in college). If they are destined for greatness, it will happen!