We all know that some youth sports are starting to become absurd. A lot is demanded of schedules, much is required of commitments, and striving to be the best is heightening the pressure on our kids. Are we doing more harm than good?
The best stance I can always take is the one I will take with my own children. Knowing what I know about training and the mindset and overall social development, there are certain boundaries and parameters I will put on their involvement with sports and other activities as they get older. I learned a lot of things the hard way, I see a lot of mistakes being made with my younger kids, and I hear a lot of horror stories from my older ones. Burnout and injuries don't have to happen. Quitting doesn't have to either. Enjoyability and positive learning experiences can ALWAYS be a part of youth sports, and they SHOULD. That's when sports are intentional and meaningful and have a greater impact. When we teach our kids about things like hard work, team work, how to handle losses, and even better, how to bounce back from them and play better the next time, then we're creating true champions. When we focus too much on winning and trying to make them professional athletes at only 12 yrs old, and then make them feel terrible about themselves when they're not, then we're making a huge mistake and quite frankly, should be ashamed of ourselves.
HERE ARE 8 WAYS I PLAN TO MAKE MY CHILD(REN) AN AWESOME ATHLETE
(yes you're right, they may not even want to do sports, and that's ok.):
1. DO MULTIPLE SPORTS.
I want my kids to learn how to move well in multiple ways and movement patterns. All around athleticism will come from participating in a range of activities, not just the same sport, all year, every year. Even if Gio wrestles like I did, I want him to learn how to jump properly like basketball players and enhance his foot and agility skills like soccer players. That's why we program the way we do at FMU. We have our kids do target practice even if they're a swimmer. We have them run through climbing obstacles even if they're a baseball player. Exposing them to other stimuli enhances coordination, connects the mind to the body, and helps learn better control over their limbs.
My plan is to get Gio into gymnastics to learn unreal body weight strength, flexibility, and control, then hopefully get him involved with wrestling and let him dabble into other sports of his choice. At the end of the day, I want him to be able to throw, kick, run, crawl, climb, sprint, swim, skip, you name it, before he even thinks about specializing into one sport. Let's wait until maybe college for that.
2. GET AWAY FROM THE GAME.
A big mistake I see is kids playing the same sport all year round. I don't think I'll allow my kids to do that. You all know what it's like when you retreat for a few days from the office---you come back better---more refreshed, more focused, with a better, more objective point of view of yourself and your performance. There seems to be this fear that we're going to lose something if we pull our kids away for a few weeks from competition. But in my opinion, when done right, getting away will only lead to gains. We know we can't perform at 100% all the time. It's good to walk away from the sport and focus on some good ole fashioned general strength and conditioning. One of the best things my athletes can do is take a few weeks to spend at FMU for the summer. They get to play, do obstacle courses, work on fundamental movement patterns and speed and agility skills and most importantly, HAVE FUN with no stress.
When I ran the Men's Health Urbanathlon last year, the winner absolutely crushed the competition. I was 24th place and he smoked me by 15 minutes. After the race he talked with my friend who was the host of the event. My friend asked what he did for training to become so fast and the guy said one of the best things he did was TAKE A BREAK. He said he ran track and cross country through college and finally got burned out. I believe he said he took YEARS off and when he finally came back to it, he was fresh, strong, injury free, and had a different perspective.
I'm not saying this happens all the time, but it's just a solid example that getting away can be good. It may just be a few weeks out of the year. Maybe it's a few months. It will look different for everyone. You'll have to test it out and find what works best for your kids.
However we can do it, we have to mix it in. Free time. During practice. Inside. Outside. We can't neglect the power of old school games like tag, kickball, dodgeball, tug-of-war, capture the flag, the creative game that you made up with your friends with a stick and some rolled up tape. Sometimes during our youth workouts we just stand back and let the kids create. Watching what they come up with is incredible. This is when they own it and stir up motivation inside that they may have not known existed. My good friend D Jack says "you have to force kids to do fitness, you have to stop them from playing." #boomshakalaka
Rest is where training becomes results. It's during the recovery phase that one recoups, re-energizes and rebuilds. So that 70-day stint where we never took a day off from practice or meets probably wasn't a good idea. Kids need rest. I know they have tons of energy and sometimes seem like they'll never stop moving, but they need to be encouraged to do so. For this, I always fall back on the fact that God commands it (#4: "Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy.") I'm guessing he knows what's good for us.
5. FOCUS ON WHAT MATTERS.
The message I will drill home to my kids is that "Sports are a part of your life, not your life." So I have to set the tone as the parent around what I allow and don't allow each week, so they understand what this looks like as they grow up. For example, other than special circumstances, we can't do things every day of the week. We will need to pick at least one day where we do absolutely no sports or activities. Right now for us, our family days are Fridays and Sundays. Nothing can interfere. We just signed Gio up for T-Ball on Friday nights and had to really think hard if we should. We considered it a "special circumstance" because it's only a few weeks long. So we went for it. But this is where many coaches and parents will get mad at me when Gio has to miss a game or practice. Some things just have to take precedence though. Church and family are some of them.
6. CREATE EXPERIENCES, NOT JUST CHAMPIONSHIPS.
This goes back to really enjoying the process more than the outcome. You won today, awesome. You lost today, awesome. What are you going to learn from it? Either way it's going to build you up to be a better person. Most of you would agree, we probably learn more from our defeats then we do our victories. So let's not miss the opportunities we can gain from reflecting on some powerful takeaways from the experience itself.
And no matter what, "I LOVE WATCHING YOU WHEN YOU...." This is a phrase I stole from a research study that looked at what motivated kids to perform well. When they heard their parents say this, it positively reinforced a winning mindset. I love watching you when you play, when you try, when you gave it your all, and most importantly when you had fun. Make this a staple phrase in your language and it assures your child that you love them no matter what. Tell me that doesn't relieve some pressure.
7. EXPOSE THEM TO ALL LEVELS.
I think it's great to get your child around athletes of all levels. Not so much to train with, but just to be around and learn how they train, act, and carry themselves. It's good to see that even the best are just humans and face the same struggles and trials. When I was in high school I was so afraid of the big-whig wrestling schools. I thought their kids were robots or something. Then when I went to Cleveland State and wrestled with some of the best in the state and nation, I realized they put their pants on the same way I did.
I'll get Gio to watch college and professional athletes train and compete at a young age. I'll find some good role models that he can "follow." I'll expose him to what it takes to get to the top, and let him decide if he even wants to.
8. ENGAGE THEM IN SERVICE OPPORTUNITIES.
You may not think this has anything to do with performance, but performance is all about the mindset. Getting kids involved in service opportunities is a great way for them to see the bigger picture and change their perspective. And when you change their perspective, you change their game. When you see another part of the world with hurting people, starving people, vulnerable people, you realize that "big game" is really not that big of a deal. In the grand scheme of things, even if you do become a professional athlete, there's a bigger mission for you to fulfill. So when the time comes to step up to the line, you get ready to fulfill your role, but because it's no longer your identity, you know you're not leaving defined by whether you win or lose. (does that even make sense?) Talk about more pressure being relieved though. And from there, performance continues to sky-rocket.
Coaches have an amazing opportunity at their hands to craft and develop strong, wise, and wholesome human beings. To miss that point would be a great disservice to everyone in their care.
I just want to take this time to encourage parents to be careful about who your kids play for. If the coach is one of those coaches that just misses the point, this could create a very negative experience for your child. Some can shake it off, some can't. I have high school and collegiate athletes who's confidence was completely destroyed from negative coaches, and they left the sport(s) because of it.
I know it's hard, but just remember, just because everyone is doing it doesn't mean it's right. Just because our kids can do it doesn't mean they should. If there's a better way, we need to find it.
You know I'm here to take a stand with you.
As always, this is all just my opinion. I'm not saying I'm right and I'm not saying I won't change my mind on some things. I will continue the search to look out for what's best for my kids, and all kids that come under my guidance.
Because the bottom line is.....
It's not about me.
Never can be. Never will be.