Super Kid

If something goes wrong once, it can be considered an anomaly. If it occurs two, three or even more it can only be considered a pattern and a potential problem.

Youth development is in the latter category. It has been showing the same pattern over and over again with no solutions practically applied. I’d like to discuss how anyone involved in youth sport could contribute to changing this re-occurring pattern of substandard youth development.

As of now, we are faced with a long list of issues in youth development, which are added to and highlighted year after year, clearly damaging the future of our sports.  In an era where obsessing over finding trends and patterns in match play and load monitoring is the ‘in’ thing, it is baffling why we are failing to find one of the most damaging patterns of all.

Below I have listed some of the areas which everyone involved in the development process should be looking to address immediately for the sake of our children’s future and the future of sport.

We Organize Youth Sport in Great Detail but Fail to Take the Same Care to Find Out and Understand the Needs of a Developmental Athlete.

Are you paying attention to what they enjoy? Want? Need? Learn what you don’t know. Don’t try and wing it. Educate yourself; speak to professionals, listen and do some research. If you are involved in youth development on any level then consider it an unwritten rule to pay more attention to your students and what is best for their level, personality, gender and biological age.

Kid on Tennis court

We Specialise Before We Generalise

There will always be outliers. Some will be great regardless of the training, not because of it. Little Jonny may be exceptional at Basketball in several years, but he was made to specialise at 8 years old in football training five times per week and will never realise his potential in different sport. In fact he may end up burnt out, lose interest and even get injured – but at least he has his U9 winners medal from football.

Play different sports. Learn different movements in different environments. Some are similar to a sport you may love and some may be different. They will all help you build a solid movement base that is very difficult to regain if avoided and has benefits, which are endless in the long term. Let them decide what sport they want to play.

Youth playing Different Sports

We Organize Youth Sport in Great Detail but Fail to Take the Same Care to Find Out and Understand the Needs of a Developmental Athlete.

Not everyone who is a professional athlete was the best 11-year old at their sport. Kids at a young age don’t seem to care about being a professional athlete yet, others related to them often do. Forget about how many goals they scored or if they were ‘the best’. Teach them and let them grow naturally. Many are late developers and just need an opportunity that they often lose out on because they weren’t as good at the beginner stage. The cream always rises to the top.

Football players in Training

We Are Playing to Train

Many Physical Education programs are the perfect example of this. Games only. Kids should be taught how to lunge, squat, hinge, push, pull, rotate, brace, land, jump and of course run properly! Improve their mobility and strength. This can be addressed in a 10-20 min fun warm up or a movement break.

If you were involved in sport take a step back and remember your own childhood. How did you learn how to move? Many people I know weren’t even coached until late teens but still managed to excel at their sport. Were they an outlier? Certainly not, but they did spend hours upon hours each day practicing skills or movements by playing fun conditioned sports or evasion games that they created themselves. Let kids have their free play. Watch them figure things out.

Kid hanging on to tree

We give them technology devices to stop them from being bored. More inactivity

Is this really the best option? Postures are deteriorating and 7 year olds have iPhones, crazy. I think the technology advances are great and some children are learning at an accelerated rate because of the information available to them. However, can’t we just let them be bored? Being bored is when creativity comes in. This is when the amazing imaginations we love of kids starts to flourish. Games were made up, people were making rope swings, climbing trees, and they would be in the streets and parks with friends building social skills. Let kids go outside and be kids!

Technology distractions

We Lost Creativity. Copycat Coaching Trying to Emulate Professionals

With information on the Internet so readily available it is very easy to copy a session someone else has created. Often they are taken from sessions for professional athletes. I think it is fair to say that if a first team program is the same as a junior program then there is something wrong. Get creative again; Joe De Franco shed some light on a medicine ball volleyball game he played with his athletes for some athletic development, whilst they were clearly having fun.

Kids having fun

We Forget The Psychological Aspect. We Need Role Models

Build character, social skills, decision-making, leadership skills, teach them how to be respectful, punctual and confident. Celebrate kids making mistakes and working hard at improving rather than celebrating those who are the best. Create a growth mindset in your students. Stop worrying about winning. Focus on improving

In every session you do, in every conversation you have with a child there is an opportunity to make them think, feel good about themselves, make them laugh or teach them something new. Give these areas more thought during your time with youth. It will create not only a good athlete but also a good person.

Football role models

What next?

I hope this does not come off as a lengthy rant, but I am very passionate about this subject and do get carried away! Instead, I hope it is an eye opener for some and a reminder for others that we don’t appear to be advancing with youth sports, one could even argue we have gone backwards.

On a daily basis I am practically applying these fundamentals with some like-minded individuals, however this is a problem that we need to eradicate as a collective group with the same goal in mind.

Fortunately, there are many others making great strides with youth development, I’d suggest if you are involved with Youth in any capacity you look at the book “Mindset” by Carol Dweck as well as information from others successfully developing youth athletes, such as: Kelvin Giles, Vern Gambetta, Nathan Parnham, Christian Woodford, Rannell Hobson, Dan Baker, Luke Jenkinson, IYCA, KIKOFF and also anything by Rhodri Lloyd will give you a better understanding of the path we need to go down to finally move forward!

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