It feels like youth sports has taken a sort of ‘if some is good, more is better’ competitive mindset to developing their athletes.
This is not unique to any one team, coach or even sport. It’s now universal.
And this is, to be blunt, a HUGE problem.
The reason being that youth programs have expanded their competitive seasons to absurd lengths, often times as long or even longer then the professional leagues in their sport.
Kids are getting injured at higher rates all the time.
They’re dropping out of sports and citing pressure as a big reason.
And in a more under the radar way, many are simply not realizing their true potential because they’re following an incredibly sub-optimal plan year after year.
Luckily, there is a very, very easy solution to all of this.
The Problem – Endless Competitive Seasons
OK, so in 2018 I feel like more coaches and parents are clear on the value of well-rounded training. What was once unheard of 15 years ago (“Why would kids be going to the gym?”) is now accepted as a powerful way to improve performance in all sports.
But in too many cases, we see families who understand the value of training but can’t find the time to fit it in.
Below is a color-coded chart of a typical annual athletic calendar for our busy kids. It reads as follows:
BLUE = When kids are busy with their sport
RED = When they focus on skill work in their sport (camps, clinics, private coaches)
PURPLE = Focus on strength training
ORANGE = Focus on speed & agility training
GREEN = Focus on developing sport-specific conditioning outside of games/practices
Naturally, different sports have different annual schedules. The above scenario would best describe spring and fall sports, whereas winter sports like basketball and ice hockey would have different 9-10 month in-season periods.
And some kids do focus on strength, speed & conditioning much, much more than others.
But the overall point is universal – too many kids drown in endless competition while leaving precious little time to develop the physical attributes they need for success at higher levels in their sport.
Kids peak early, and struggle to keep up later in life as the more gifted physical players pass them by.
Injuries mount. And once they start, a passive approach to physical development is almost a guarantee you’ll get injured again in the future.
Kids lose confidence in themselves, sometimes in a very tragic way. It is hard to stay confident when sports was your life in your younger years, but now you aren’t as successful.
The One Word Solution – Planning
The solution is not only simple, it is used nearly worldwide already.
In many other countries, the competitive season for kids age 14 and under is closer to 6 months.
Why is this beneficial?
It removes the high pressure environment on kids for longer stretches. Data shows that drop out rates, which are alarmingly high for youth sports today, are often caused by coaches putting too much pressure on kids to succeed.
It opens up longer windows to truly develop physical skills like speed, strength and power. Training sessions accumulate to produce the results you seek, and the more time you put in the greater the results that accumulate for you. Taken over one year this can be significant, but over a 10 year youth athletic career the difference is profound.
Below, you’ll find sample plans for each of the 3 sports seasons. As they combine a bunch of sports and age levels, they are only intended to be examples of how a greater emphasis can be placed on fully developing our kids.
Each highlighted section represents the time each category is a top priority.
The reality is that athletes who do plan their year more like these examples than the ones above stand out over time.
They don’t end up complaining about the coach not liking them, or their bad luck, or anything else like that, because they are proactive in their development and thrive.
For one, physical training has a cumulative effect, meaning it has a greater impact the more you do it. By expanding training for longer windows you hit higher peaks at the end of each training season, and lose less progress when you return the next year because your training off-season is shorter.
In addition, with training the only battle is between you today versus you from yesterday. Everyone has a win entirely in their control if they give enough effort. This has an incredibly positive effect on self-confidence.
Third, and perhaps most importantly, all the critical skills that you need to become elite in your sport require endless repetition. These are skills that are hard to develop when playing games endlessly.
There is no more precious resource than time.
This is especially true playing youth sports, because you have a very limited window to develop the physical and sport-specific skills you need to become elite.
I feel like the biggest mistake sports teams are making today is to try and monopolize the time kids have without providing a much more well-rounded approach to true athletic development.
Game play and conditioning certainly are important, but when they force kids to sacrifice the physical skills they need to excel and stay healthy, it is a problem.