Friday, December 11, 2015

Child Athletes

There’s a dangerous trend in youth athletics right now- a trend of treating young children like…well…like smaller versions of adults or college athletes. It’s important to remember, however, that children are definitely not adults. They learn in different ways than adults due to their age, their attention spans, and the fact that their brains are not fully developed yet. As such, it’s very important to use appropriate methods to train and educate them, methods designed for children, not adults. 

Another important thing to keep in mind is that the goals and outcomes created for child athletes should be different than the goals and outcomes created for college athletes. During the younger years, it’s important to focus on building basic skills, gleaning secondary skills from the game such as teamwork and leadership, and crafting explosive and reactive athletes who can respond to challenges and play well in the “real world” of the game.

Furthermore, while college athletes are often focused on strength training and building muscle and endurance, this isn’t really the right focus for young children. Young children generally don’t have problems with endurance, thanks to all the energy and stamina that comes with youth. Plus, weight training really isn’t safe or necessary for their developing bodies. The types of exercises they need to be doing are exercises that teach them game-specific movements and that build overall ability and agility while burning off excess energy. Activities like running, jumping, and skating are what they need to be doing, not lifting barbells or dumbbells!

They also need to get used to “elements of uncertainty,” which can and do easily occur in games. They need to know what to do and how to handle it when they encounter unstable footing, an unpredictable play, or other challenges.

The best way to prepare them for these challenges and to build the skills that youth athletes- NOT adult athletes- need is to play and to play regularly. Playing is a lot more fun and a lot more productive than constant drills and practices. Young athletes will learn through trial and error, and they’ll have a good time doing it, preventing burnout and instilling a love of the sport. Remember, kids have their whole lives to play like little pros but only a short time to enjoy the fun experience of being youth athletes- emphasis on the “youth.”

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