April, Spring and Youth Training


Please view MEET THE GROUP before reading this months post.

Just 10 days after returning from 2 weeks at the Youth World Championships I found myself at the USAW Masters National Championships. However my topic for this month has to do with an event that was going on in the same venue as our Masters. The American Celebration is a cheer leading competition. An event equal in it’s skill and pageantry. What was of interest was how varied the ages where. Athletes as young a 5+. This was no small event as the Salt Palace had more than half of its entire facility dedicated to non-stop sessions over a 4 day schedule. It was during this time that I came across an all to familiar incident. (This is in no way an aspersion on cheer leading as what happened here is common to all youth sports but it is an example of why this month’s topic is valid.)

A young girl, no more than 9, and still in her competition uniform was ‘hot’ walking down the back side hallway, with her mother at an equal pace but lagging a short distance behind. I have seen this “movie” all to often. The Walk of Despair. It was easy to see that things had not gone well.

Without breaking stride the young girl turned her head to the side her mother was trailing on and spoke these words.. I’m not feeling the fun.”

WOW. You could see the angst in the mothers eyes and before I could turn around they vanished down the ramp and into the garage.

If you consider Youth as U-11 to 17, Juniors as 18 to 20 the attrition rate is significant and for all sports. Youth to Junior is around 59% and Youth to Senior (21 and above) is about 77%.

The Number one reason athlete leave their sport is that… “It’s no longer fun.”

What is the difference between Play, Games and Sport?

French Theorist Jean-Jacques Rousseau believed that children come into the world with a sense of wonder and joy and society takes that from them early and in a severe way.

Play is unstructured where rules are made up and then are changed or abandoned. Outcomes have little or no long term effects.
Games have rules but little or no risk. Your feelings may be hurt but you recover quickly.
Sport is both super structured and ladened with risk. The loss of expected outcomes can have serious ramifications.

Many “Sport” Psychologists believe that American Children have too little “Play” time and are placed into Sport before they are ready for the emotional strain that Sports present,

It was very easy to lose sight of just how young the competitors at the Youth World Championships are as their performances would be impressive at both the junior and the open level of competition in their home country.

In speaking with all the coaches it is apparent that the majority of these athletes are on schedules that are preparing them for 2024. Most if not all of the 180 athletes competed well and seemed to be enjoying themselves but it will be interesting to see how many continue to the “Open” Class and reach the Olympic Games.

In my 14 years with the USAW National Junior Squad and 41 years as a high school teacher I experienced a lot of both. I had a handful of Major League Baseball Players come through Meridian High, fewer basketball players play College and in Europe. 1 Pro Football player, a golfer and a skateboarder. Then an equestrian a Boxer, Wrestlers, Track Athletes shooters and swimmers who got close but did not make any Olympic Teams. Most Freshmen teams of 30 athletes would be 8 to 10 Seniors. Of course most of the athletes where in between. They enjoyed high school but had no interest in continuing after graduation.

For the Junior Squad it was different. While almost all of the Olympians between 1988 and 2004 came through the National Junior and US Resident Programs, (I saw 11 and 12 year olds grow into Olympians and World Champions) in the end it was a small percentage of the total number of athletes that came into the “pipeline” (as it was called) What IS rewarding is the number of athletes that I worked with in the National Junior Program that are still involved in our sport as coaches, officials, and Master Lifters ( I will not mention the athlete’s name but in 1995 she won 3 bronze medals at the Junior World Championships and just set 3 National Masters Records in Salt Lake City.)

How do we, as coaches, ensure that the experiences of our athletes provide memories of joy and wonder as opposed to bitterness and regret?

USA Hockey has a program that I have always acknowledged and blatantly ‘borrowed’ from them as Director of Coaching Education ( 2012-2018 )

Play, Love, Excel IS the way to go. To ensure that the athlete has the very best of experiences and therefore the very best chance of attaining their potential the following steps are recommended.

1. Active Start: The athlete has a lot of play time and is encouraged to participate in as many activities as they are inclined to.
2. Learn to Train: The athlete is exposed to formal training but only Two to Three training sessions per week that are limited to 30 to 45 minutes in length.
3. Train to Train: The athlete increases their training schedule to 3 to 4 times per week with an increase in the number of exercises and experiences. However they are still encouraged to participate in Multiple actives.
4. Train to Compete: IF THE ATHLETE CHOOSES to do so they begin their transition from “emerging” athlete to “performance” athlete
5. Learn to Compete: The athlete accepts a higher level of competition and of performance
6. Compete to Win: The athlete dedicates themselves to the Highest Level possible for them (High School Varsity, Collegiate, National, International and, perhaps, even Professional.

A FINAL THOUGHT. Tom Brady was a 6th round draft pick out of the University of Michigan This means that no one, certainly Tom Brady, had the idea that he would, in fact, become Tom Brady.
Coaches need to remember this. We have no idea which or our athletes may be “THE” athlete so let’s treat them all with respect, dignity and ‘coach them up’. We have a stewardship to them physically, mentally, emotionally and even spiritually.

Let’s Play Love and Excel