Our young athletes are our future but NOT only because they will take the reigns from us as the future adult athletes in our beloved sports. These athletes also will be the ones to pass on the same knowledge, practices and mentality that they were given, to the generation after them.
What this means is that if we don’t ‘get it right’, if we don’t expect BETTER of our coaches and parents, and expect MORE out of what sports can offer our youth, then we will have multiple generations of athletes -young and old- whose bodies, lives and athletic careers will be crippled unnecessarily.
This is why discussions on youth athlete long-term progression, holistic programming, strength training and conditioning practices, mindset, and injury prevention and resilience are SO important!
As a coach, what I see today are athletes, especially at higher levels of competition, being treated like they are disposable. If they aren’t prepared to put away good sense, eat nails and be run into the ground, then there is another athlete waiting right there to take her place. And while this is not every youth athlete’s situation, it is a very common one.
Not only is this shortsighted mentality a deficit on the coach’s part, but it teaches youth athletes at a young age that their bodies are only valuable if they are willing to risk wrecking them every day. They push past pain and injury, not wanting to either disappoint their coaches (or their parents!) or be replaced in their position. In this state, they aren’t able to perform at their best and risk getting hurt badly enough to never play their sport again or even cripple them for life. And many times unfortunately, this situation is fueled by poor coaching being covered up by claims of poor work ethic, or lack of mental toughness, or even lacking of skill on the athlete’s part. Instead, it really is negligence and ignorance on the coach’s part.
It’s important to remember that the sports coaches and strength coaches out there were once youth athletes and many of them are simply repeating what they went through as young athletes. They put their full trust in their coach, whether he or she was deserving of it or not, and they expect the same of their young athletes. And that is why if we want better for our youth athletes, we must start with the coaches.
And that is why it is so important that you are reading this! I suspect that you are reading this article because you have realized a lot of the same things that I have mentioned.
I also suspect that you want to hold yourself to a higher standard and not just train your young athletes with tactics that you use purely because your coach did them to you or because they seem like a ‘good idea’.
You want real answers, you want to be thoughtful, you want your athletes to be thoughtful. You want to be a part of a community that is constantly evaluating itself for effective, long term minded practices, and that holds itself to a higher standard than our coaches did when we were young athletes.
What youth coaches (sports/skills coaches and strength and conditioning coaches) need to teach their athletes is that their bodies are an investment. They need to feed them, train them, and develop them to withstand the stress of sports (and life for that matter!) for their entire sports careers! Coaches should back up that ideology with their actions on the field with their coaching, as well as off the field by constantly seeking out educational opportunities to improve their coaching skills and understanding of the human body.
Our youth athletes not only need better coaches, they DESERVE better coaches! And that is what we are doing here at the W1N conference – learning, evolving, and then improving our programs for the longevity of our athletes.