The youth sporting world today is riddled with conversations about youth team selections as an indicator of talent even though it quite often isn’t the biggest of deals down the line. The most important thing for a young aspiring athlete at any age is that they are going about the right process to ensure their ongoing development and their health whilst continuing to love and enjoy the sport that inspired them to begin with.
I want to break down some guidelines to help you parents/coaches guide your kids to become the best athletes that they can and reduce the chances of them fading out of sport, getting injured or even falling behind the rest as they get older.
The way we are going to look at this is in a timeline, following stages of maturation the children all go through on their way to becoming fully formed adults. Keep in mind that all kids develop at different rates and that the below age brackets are very generalised.
At this age kids have the ability to learn motor skills very quickly and efficiently – this is the best opportunity to lay solid foundations in a wide variety of movements and skills. They are going through high levels of cognitive development making them absolute sponges but there is a requirement for all learning to be kept simple yet play orientated.
- PLAY lots of different sports with high diversity in skill demands. No need for dedicated trainings beyond games and team trainings.
- Keep everything fun & competitive.
- Teach values for team play, competitive play and learning how to learn.
At this age kids are being hit with puberty hormones, many are going through rapid physical growth, and they are often moving into a more serious form of sports such as representative teams u11 & u13. The rapid growth often coincides with a loss of motor control as limbs grow faster than the brain can keep up. Unfortunately those who mature the fastest often become the perceived “most talented”, making higher teams because of their superior physical attributes at the neglection of their skill level.
- Stay focused on multiple sports continuing to develop motor skill variety
- Closely monitor training volume as high growth rate can reduce relative strength and coordination. Absolute strength improves steadily however Strength:Body Weight Ratio often declines, while motor control often declines in cases of very high rate of growth.
- Include an element of basic gym/home strength training to improve physical strength, motor patterns and kinesthetic awareness to safeguard the body and improve relative strength and motor control.
Heading towards the later teens / early adulthood athletes are beginning to truly train to be elite. They are all growing at different rates whilst having a similar perception of what success means – winning. I don’t believe this is wrong, any kid who hopes to make it needs to develop gritty hunger for competing and winning. This can lead to plenty of disappointment and heartbreak when players are often surpassing one another as they go from year to year, which is an important learning step and a good thing to suffer through. Every player needs to know what it is like to fall short, since this is what drives the hunger to get better. Players who win too much at a young age because they are ahead of the others physically often start to neglect that which is most important: developing your body (Athletic training, nutrition, recovery), skillset (skills training & on-court playing time) and mindset (Striving to win, learning from loss, developing self-awareness as a player) to make you successful when you become an adult!
- Sports Specification becomes okay.
- Get into situations in which you will struggle to overcome and likely fail at first.
- Institute a proper strength and conditioning program to improve strength:body weight ratio & motor control
- Closely monitor workload with respect to health to prevent overtraining
- Include skill work in training schedule
- Play lots to maximise experience in game situations.
There are too many cases year to year of kids not reaching their potential, or those who are dropping out of sport because of injury or a developed disinterest! Being more aware as an adult who influences the new upcoming athletes of tomorrow can help keep many of these kids in action and developing.
Catch you next time! - Coach Zac