Who will be the next Venus Williams, Peyton Manning, Tiger Woods or Mia Hamm?
Many parents believe it will be their child, if they just get them started in their sport early, get the best trainer, the right coach and the best equipment. While it’s true that parents are an integral part in the process of identifying and encouraging interest, it is imperative for parents to fully understand their role and be realistic with their expectations. Few go on to achieve the athletic dream at its highest level, but many can bask in the multifaceted benefits that come with achieving their maximum athletic potential while having fun and positive experience along the way.
Predicting success in sports at a young age is challenging; there are a multitude of factors that influence long-term performance. Individual physical, physiological and sociological development are impossible to forecast, especially when combined with the unknown outcomes of growth and development through puberty. Making assumptions around future athletic talent at a young age has about the same outcome as playing the lottery.
More than 50 percent of American children experience organized sports by the age of 8 or 9, and participation rates continue to rise through the childhood years. However, as many as 70 percent of those children will not pursue sports beyond their teenage years. Parents who understand the athletic attributes needed for sports and who know where to source specialized coaching can allow children to enjoy their athletic development as they follow tangible steps to improve their abilities in measurable ways. As youth athletic trainers, we quantify, analyze and help build the athletic talent required for success, and by doing so we help parents harness their enthusiasm, focus their expenditures and spend more time enjoying the childhood and youth sports experience. Here’s some advice we often give our parents:
Don’t plan on living vicariously through your child
Maybe you spent a good part of your life wishing you had followed through on your promising baseball career instead of whatever you chose to do instead (no assumptions here). You recognize that, at five, your kid can throw better than most of his friends. You’re inclined to focus solely on baseball, but don’t. Many athletes are specializing in one sport at very early ages in hopes of a professional career, encouraged by parents who may have specific dreams or plans for their child. Kids who are streamlined into a single sport early are robbed of more varied experiences critical to developing overall athleticism. A lower athletic baseline limits their sport-specific improvement potential and can lead to burnout. Instead, help your young athlete develop a range of skills they will draw on at an older age when they are actually ready to capitalize on specialization. While it’s great to share a passion for baseball, it’s also important to develop all of the base skills needed for sports ranging from soccer to basketball for the most well-rounded athlete (so, you may be required to learn the game of soccer inside and out!).
Your child may be bigger and faster now, when they are 8, but you can’t accurately predict what that will mean at 18. Understand your child’s current athletic assessment (from knowledgeable trainers and coaches) and know the realistic and measurable results from training. In spite of your dreams for your child, he or she may not have the coordination or skill it takes to develop elite athletic talent, but that doesn’t mean they can’t improve upon what’s there.
Reward effort, not results
It feels great to win, but winning isn’t nearly as important as the effort contributed. Some days just aren’t your day, and sometimes, the competitor is just…well, better. Never teach your child that not winning equals failing. But always teach them to give it 100 percent and never give up.
Reflect on the game over ice cream regardless of the score at the end, because encouraging the effort is what will encourage them the most.
Promote a positive experience
Let them have fun, better yet, make absolutely sure they are having fun. If that means getting out there and acting like a goofball yourself, so be it. If they’re not having fun developing as an athlete, if they’re not enjoying a particular sport, you can’t force it. It’s one thing to make them follow through on their commitment to the season or the team, but if you want it more than they do, forget about it. There’s a great risk to your relationship with your child, and your child’s relationship with sports if you don’t promote a positive experience, so have fun with it!
This really doesn’t need to be said, but it does. Throughout the programs your child participates in, always be involved enough to know what is going on and what is being encouraged. It may sound crazy to you now, but there are coaches and trainers out there that will forgo safety to achieve better results. Pay attention and always ask questions.
Be a role model
Promote sportsmanship on the field and with other parents and coaches, a healthy lifestyle, a positive attitude, dedication to commitment, the importance of practice. Nothing is worse (or more embarrassing) for the kid than an overbearing, red-faced parent. They will eventually ask you not to come to the games, and if you don’t listen, your behavior could be enough to make them not want to play at all.
There’s a certain mystique about the athletically inclined and the combination of skills, physical and mental, they exhibit that enables them to achieve athletic eliteness. Parents of youth athletes play an elemental role in their development, from recognizing the passion in their child to inspiring dedication, hard work and commitment, without going over the top.
Bodies by Mahmood specializes in developing youth and student athletes. With over 20 years of experience molding successful collegiate athletes from a young age, Bodies by Mahmood brings to the table years of specialized knowledge of dynamic athletic development, and does so in a rewarding and positive environment.