Best Practices for Young Athletes
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Posted June 2, 2016
By Desi Rotenberg, MS, LAT, ATC
Athletics and sport play a significant role both in the lives of the child and in the lives of the parent. A positive experience can yield retention and adherence to a sport, whereas a negative experience can lead to non-compliance and an unwillingness to grow within the sport. The goal for youth sports is two-fold: to create a fun, engaging environment that is learning and team-centered, and to teach young athletes how to begin priming their body and improving their performance through fitness training.
The first aspect is ensuring the children are with teams, coaches and programs that are truly vested in the development of their self-esteem and their true potentials. Development of talent and skill is important; however, as we often see, when the focal point is solely on winning, the development can be hindered.
Dr. JoAnn Dahlkoetter, a leading sport performance psychologist, came up with the “Top 5 Mistakes Parents and Coaches Make in Motivating Young Athletes”1:
1. Parent or coach overreacts when the athlete does not perform up to expectations
2. Demanding too much time or commitment from the athlete, resulting in chronic injuries or being burnt out
3. Giving an inordinate amount of attention to the star player and ignoring the value of other team members
4. Increasing the pressure and expectations as the season goes beyond the appropriate expectation for that age group
5. Not encouraging the young athlete to have a balance within their life (i.e. school, family, social circle, rest)
Over time, these negative stigmas and reactions can have a deep, long-lasting impact, especially on athletes who are emotionally fragile and sensitive. We must ensure that before an athlete can begin a productive and successful fitness training regiment, their mindset must be pointed in a positive direction and healthy priorities must be established. It will be the responsibility of the parent and the coaching staff to create an environment that brings out the greatest potential of each child in a safe, controlled manner.
Furthermore, sport specialization can also be harmful to a young athlete’s growth and development. Myer et al. validate that focusing young athletes on one specific sport and quitting all other sports can lead to increased likelihood of chronic injury and burnout.2
Avoiding burnout can be a product of diversifying sport and exercise at a young age and encouraging young athletes to engage in healthy training habits. In order to ensure the optimal growth and development of young athletes, allowing unstructured play should be encouraged. In addition, sports should allow young athletes to continue to develop motor skills and to participate in an alternative, fun atmosphere. This can alleviate some of the pressures placed on young athletes by the demands of the sport.
A follow-up study by Myer et al. indicated that a “periodized strength training model” should be utilized to prepare young athletes for the demands that will be placed on them later in their athletic lives.3 Every athlete should have opportunities for mental and physical rest and recovery, and parents and coaches must be sensitive to the needs of each individual.
2. Myer, Gregory D., et al. "Sport Specialization, Part I Does Early Sports Specialization Increase Negative Outcomes and Reduce the Opportunity for Success in Young Athletes?" Sports Health: A Multidisciplinary Approach (2015): 1941738115598747.
3. Myer, Gregory D., et al. "Sports Specialization, Part II Alternative Solutions to Early Sport Specialization in Youth Athletes." Sports Health: A Multidisciplinary Approach 8.1 (2016): 65-73.
About the Author
Desi Rotenberg, originally from Denver, Colorado, graduated with his bachelor's degree in 2012 from the University of Northern Colorado. He has been a BOC Certified Athletic Trainer since 2012 and earned his master's degree in Exercise Physiology from the University of Central Florida in 2014. He currently is a high school teacher, teaching anatomy/physiology and leadership development. Along with being a teacher, he wears many hats, such as basketball coach, curriculum developer and mentor. He has been a contributor to the BOC Blog since the summer of 2015.