I began coaching at the high school level in 1998 and spent seven years working mostly with athletes who were 15-18 years old. During those years, I learned from the other coaches on our staff how to get the most out of those kids. We pushed them hard and demanded excellence, and yet, for the most part, those players knew our staff was motivated by a love for the players. We really wanted what was best for them, as individuals and as a team. So when a kid was being lazy in the weight room or the practice field, there was pretty much no way that was going to be OK.
Nowadays, I’m working mostly with middle school athletes and this summer, I’m helping lead summer workouts in the weight room. Most of the athletes are 12 and 13 years old. They are not very strong yet. I’m doing a lot of bench press spotting with kids using just the bar. However, this is a valuable time for these players. We are working on developing proper technique, helping them gain a little strength now, hopefully laying the foundation for them to get quite a bit stronger in years to come, and perhaps most importantly, providing an opportunity for them to develop the habit of giving a great effort in the weight room with their teammates.
You’re not going to believe this, but middle school students and high school students are not at the same place developmentally. I have to catch myself when I see a kid spending too much time talking with his buddies and not getting in his reps. My default is to treat him like he’s 17. He’s not. He’s 12. That doesn’t mean I’m going to sit back and quietly tolerate bad habits, but it does mean that I’m going to try and correct the issue differently. My Coaching Purpose Statement talks about helping young people develop a love for the sport and a love for others. If I’m harshly jumping all over a 7th grader in the weight room, I’m not really steering him toward a love for the sport.
This process has me thinking about how often in the world of youth sports we see good people with good intentions putting children into situations years before most of them are ready. In this video, Coach Steve Springer talks about the biggest mistake made by youth baseball parents. Check it out; it’s worth watching. In the video, he makes mention of a 7-year old travel ball team. My question is, why are seven year olds playing on a travel ball team? These kids just finished 1st grade. It’s not my job to tell people how to live their lives, I know that, but could it possibly be that for many of these families, the kids aren’t the ones who benefit the most from this arrangement? Could it be that the fancy uniforms and tournament schedule make the parents and/or coaches feel important?
On the radio this week I listened to a couple sports talk hosts discussing the decreasing numbers in football participation. One guy was talking about how lower numbers in football for kids 10 and under doesn’t seem to be a bad thing at all. I’m paraphrasing here, but his premise was that football is a lot more fun without pads for kids that age anyway, so if the goal is to maintain participation levels in high schools, then who cares if 8 year olds don’t play in pads? He put this idea out there, and I think I might agree with him as he compared little kids in football uniforms to little girls in beauty pageants. He said that we get these kids all dressed up and parade them around, and it’s really mostly for the parents’ benefit. You might not agree, that’s OK, but it’s an interesting idea to think on.