WARNING: This article is controversial.
I have spent the last nine years being a student of youth sports and student-athlete development.
I have worked with over a thousand athletes and have loved every minute of it. Helping a teen become better than they were yesterday keeps me awake at night and jolts me up in the morning. It drives my wife nuts sometimes, but she understands :-)
Over the past nine years, and in particular, the past three, I have seen some major shifts.
There are a few scary realities facing our athletes today that will have implications on their future.
Here is what I see for the future of our athletes.
The increased pressure and expectations put on athletes to perform at high levels, achieve arbitrary goals and numbers, and earn scholarships will lead to exponentially higher levels of stress, lower levels of joy and enthusiasm, which will undoubtedly lead to increased burnout.
I can think of dozens and dozens of athletes with whom we currently work with that are on this path as we speak.
My main responsibility at this point is to restore their joy and passion for sports by reminding them of WMM (what matters most). I intentionally strive to take some degree of pressure off of the athletes I work with. The end result is ALWAYS a higher performing athlete but more importantly, a higher performing person.
If I fail, they will resent their sport and adult influencers who ruined it for them. Research shows these kids who experience burnout are unlikely to engage in a healthy, active life after sports.
Statistic: According to the National Alliance for Youth Sports, 70 percent of kids quit playing sports by age 13 because "It's just not fun anymore".
The top two reasons reported: coaches and parents.
I predict that number will increase unless we as coaches and parents step back and make a firm decision that we need to change our approach.
Helping to reduce unnecessary pressure and expectation is a key to not only avoiding burnout but also to unlocking true potential.
KEEP READING: We have helped more than 40 athletes reach the collegiate level over the past 3 years. Almost 50% of them being Division 1 scholarship athletes. Everything I share in this article works and it works well. These 40 athletes not only made it, but they have become the LEADERS on their teams, athletes who stand apart from the rest...in more ways than one.
I predict fewer and fewer athletes will have the desire to play at the collegiate level, and the number of athletes who play all four years will drop dramatically.
High school and club sports are becoming the new college athletics.
If club and high school sports continue to become more and more of a “job”, athletes will eventually resent the sport and the coaches who made it that way.
I believe achieving a college scholarship is a shallow goal at best IF it is motivated by the wrong reasons:
To prove something to someone, to brag, to keep up with peers who are doing it, to feed the ego (parent and/or athlete)…these are a few reasons I see athletes strive for college sports. You should strive for college sports because you believe in reaching for your full potential. You LOVE your sport and don’t want to give it up after high school. Having a strong sense of "purpose" is the only way to sustain the rigor that comes with collegiate athletics.
The truth is that by the time most athletes get to junior or senior year, they DON’T love the game anymore. I know this because I "get real" with hundreds of athletes every week and I ask them! You know what they fear most about telling me this? Their parents finding out…
I predict that the consequences of FEAR will become more and more apparent if we as coaches and youth influencers do not prioritize training the Mental Game.
These mindset traps that plague just about every middle and high school athlete will show greater and greater consequences in their confidence levels.
How to combat this:
1. Coaches must redefine and rediscover values- what matters most.
What matters most is character development: who that athlete becomes in the process of playing sports (not short term achievements).
At our core as coaches and parents, we say and believe this matters most, but what we Reward, Recognize, and Condemn is all related to the athletes physical performance: winning, losing, achievements, accomplishments.
What matters most is and always has been GIVING YOUR BEST EFFORT NO MATTER WHAT.
What matters most is physical literacy: making sure athletes enjoy sports and become physically active for LIFE.
What matters most is improving your attitude, the way you react and respond to adversity, being a great teammate, seeking help and guidance as an athlete (coach-ability and humility), continual improvement.
We need to teach and show athletes how to value THESE things. We need to restore these things as the focus. Because when you do, the OUTCOME is exactly what everyone wants…a higher performing athlete on and off the field.
2. Coaches must take responsibility for helping athletes to remember WHY they play and restore joy for sport.
Believe it or not, this will lead to INCREASED on-field performance. It will help them relax, overcome mistakes quickly, and play their game without overthinking.
I recently began working with 7 young gymnasts on “Strengthening Their Mindset to Overcome Fears and Perform Confidently”.
We spent the first month getting back to where it all started. “WHY did you start playing sports? What about the sport attracted you?”
“It was fun. I liked it. I liked to compete. I liked the challenge.”
Reminding them of this was all they needed to go out the NEXT DAY and overcome fears that had been plaguing them for anywhere between 3 months to 2 years! Imagine what would happen to our athletes if we reduced pressure and expectation, and reignited the passion and their WHY.
3. Coaches must become masters in training an athlete’s mindset. Mindset Matters Most and needs to become THE STARTING POINT that transforms an athletes feelings, actions, habits, and results.
I do not know many coaches who are studying the mental game. How to help an athlete overcome fear, work past their doubts and self-limiting beliefs, get in the zone and stay in the zone, how to overcome mistakes quickly, etc.
In order to escape the Comparison Trap, use the Perfectionist Mentality for good, and overcome Fears, coaches need to learn how to change an athlete’s Mindset.
4. Parents and coaches must pay closer attention to the athlete’s energy and body language.
Athletes must have adequate time off for rest, recovery, and having a life outside sports. What exactly are we teaching them about the importance of balance in life?
Every adult I have surveyed desires more peace, balance, and fulfillment in their life. Our athletes will not have those things either unless we get serious about this and make balance a priority.
As parents and coaches we also must do better at discerning between a lazy mindset and a physically drained brain and body.
Remember, “Mental Toughness” is not developed through crushing an athlete into the ground.
I predict overuse injuries will double over the next three years due to continued uprising of year-round club teams and sport specificity.
Playing the same sport year-round comes with a tradeoff.
Risk of injury increases.
Strength, speed, and power decreases.
Joy, excitement, and love for sport decreases.
Pressure to perform increases.
You get stuck in the crowd, doing what every other athlete is doing. You don’t stand out!
Fear of falling behind increases.
You must decide what you value most as their coach and their parent. They need to be aware and educated of the repercussions of this.
The year-round running and conditioning, the excessive swinging/throwing/twisting motions that most young bodies are not prepared to handle, and the repetitive stress to the same muscles, joints, and ligaments is the root cause of the injury “epidemic” in middle and high school sports.
High school athletes account for an estimated two million injuries, 500,000 doctor visits, and 30,000 hospitalizations each year. I predict that number will continue to increase over the next three years
According to the CDC, more than half of all sports injuries in children are preventable.
In the next three years, the proactive coaches and parents will invest equal amounts, if not more time and money into prevention, as they do trying to increase performance. Ultimately, this investment will aid in the athlete staying healthy.
The best personal trainers and sports performance coaches will place heavier emphasis on recovery and injury prevention.
How to combat this:
1. Coaches must be willing to restructure schedules.
In order to rise up and stand out, you must be ahead of the curve and be willing to try something different.
Plan for intermittent periods of time off of intense running and practicing your particular sport.
Do not allow practices to last more than 90 minutes.
John Wooden never ran practice longer than 90 minutes and won 11 national championships at the NCAA Division 1 level.
Attention spans are getting lower by the day. The results from recent studies showed the average human attention span has fallen from 12 seconds in 2000, or around the time the mobile revolution began, to eight seconds in 2017.
Shorter practices with increased intensity and focus will be 10 times more effective.
2. Parents and athletes must address their fears of their athletes falling behind, missing out. We must recognize that less is often MORE.
3. Coaches will need to allocate more time and resources towards developing solid recovery and regeneration based solutions for their athletes.
4. Coaches and parents need to shift from a reactive mindset to a more proactive one.
The proactive coaches and parents will invest equal amounts, if not more time and money into prevention, as they do trying to increase performance. Ultimately, this investment will aid in the athlete staying healthy. Not to mention, a good injury prevention program will undoubtedly enhance physical performance.
This is what I see.
Our athletes are not doomed, but they are on the wrong road going the wrong direction.
They are traveling towards a destination and have no clue what it will cost them in the future.
They are achievement focused. They are focused more on pleasing and impressing than they are on growing and developing.
We as coaches and parents are responsible for changing the outcome.
We must stop, consider what it is we truly value, and then begin aligning what we practice with what we value.
This is not some, “pie in the sky, give a participation trophy to everyone, just have fun” speech.
I believe sports should be challenging and competitive, but not war.
I believe athletes should develop discipline, but not become robots.
I believe sports should be a means to developing a more successful young man and woman, not a ticket to prestige, popularity, or possessions (i.e. scholarships).
This is what I see. We can reverse the trend if we link arms and put the highest interests of our athletes first. Some coaches and parents are doing it well, but statistics tell us that more than 70% are not. So let’s do something about it.
I can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org if you have any questions or if you would like my help in anyway. My Purpose is simple: Help as many student-athletes as possible to develop the leader within them and maximize their God-given capacities in sport and life.
Dedicated to your athlete’s success,