Athletic development training and specialized sports coaching has totally changed the landscape of youth sports. It has shifted the balance of power as far as which schools succeed, which fail, and where the most college scholarships are awarded.
This is the unspoken piece of the puzzle that so many sports parents are trying to come to grips with today.
'Why should we be doing even more?', 'What does this stuff even do?' are common and completely understandable questions I hear when we speak with sports parents for the first time.
To answer those questions best, it helps to think of all kids playing sports as being grouped into 3 categories:
1. Doesn't Do Any Training Outside Of Team Practices
2. Trains Beyond Team Requirements But Stays in Comfort Zone
3. Trains Beyond Team Requirements Outside Of Comfort Zone
Athletes Who Only Do Team Practices and Basic Training
Those who fall into the first category are relying on talent alone, because everyone else is doing the exact same thing. This will get them by for as long as they remain physically superior to their competitors. The less physically gifted will fall behind earlier in their youth sports career, the more talented will get by for awhile but eventually get passed by.
This is the category where so many kids used to earn college scholarships. They were physically superior in their teenage years and college coaches drooled over their potential. Unfortunately for them, the world has changed and left a lot of them behind.
Athletes Who Train Outside Of Team Events But Stay In Comfort Zone
Those who do work to get better outside of their team events but stay in their comfort zone show a better mental approach, but unfortunately do not get much bang for their buck.
They work on something they are already adequate to excellent at - strength, conditioning, flexibility, etc - while avoiding the developmental needs that would make huge improvements in their production over time.
One extremely common example of this are the kids who do lots of distance running to 'stay in shape', even if they are still quite active. Lots of calories are burned, some aerobic benefit is gained, but lots of time and energy are wasted making very minimal gains in an area that likely wasn't holding back their success because they were already fit to begin with.
Another example are the athletes who lift regularly, yet their workout routine consists of a lot of bench press, curls, and similar exercises that they are already competent or excellent at. For those who hit the weights 4-5 times a week, this has likely long since stopped being an area of weakness in their game.
Athletes Who Train Beyond Team Requirements, And Work Outside Their Comfort Zone
These are the 21st Century success stories of youth sports. These are the kids who work on their weaknesses, not their default comfort workout.
It's the big, strong athlete who makes the effort to become faster, or the lean, fit player who is willing to begin strength training.
It's also the kid who knows their mechanics are off in a sports skill and swallows their pride to go work with a personal coach to fix the issue.
Whether through the positive influence of a parent or a commitment from the athlete themselves, kids who train diligently to fix skill deficits play better, build confidence, and open the eyes of more scouts looking for players who can succeed at the next level.
Unfortunately for those in the first two categories, it is the ones in the third that are changing the landscape of youth sports. Look around and you'll see that affluent communities that provide more of these opportunities are all of a sudden more successful in high school athletics, and more of their kids are playing their sport in college.
This is not a local trend, it is a national trend.
And yet you do not have to be from any specific city or be rich to have these same advantages.
But you do need to change your mindset when it comes to long-term athletic development.
Find your areas of need.
Be willing to swallow your pride and work on things you may not naturally find comfortable.
And commit to working at it, consistently, and through the times when it becomes challenging.
Teams and individuals who do this will find greater success awaits them in the end.