Flaws of Youth athlete development in the U.S.
Currently in youth sports, we are seeing athletes who are bigger, stronger, and faster at younger ages, largely due to genetics and other factors. Youth sports (elementary age in particular) are also experiencing longer sports seasons, more specialized and sport specific training, and also more pressure to win. Many coaches and private athletic programs believe that having more competitions or longer seasons with more exposure in front of high school and college coaches will increase an athlete's chance for a college scholarship and/or a professional career. If we look at the stats and not what pads coaches' pockets, we will see that this is inaccurate.
First there is no correlation between a 12 year old's athletic success and their performance as a junior or senior in high school. Just because you are a star in middle school does not mean you will be a star in high school (most turn into average athletes for reasons outside the scope of this article). Secondly, only 1% of high school seniors will receive a scholarship (partial or full), in which the best athlete will normally get offered, not the child who has played in the most tournaments/competitions (team sports), especially if they are playing in one sport all year. There are many flaws in this country's development of youth athletes, and my goal for this article is to highlight a few of them. This article is mainly focusing on athletes from Kindergarten to fifth grade although there many flaws in the development (or lack of) in middle and high school athletes.
Flaws in Youth Sports
The focus of the preparation of youth is based around winning and not skill development
Elementary school aged children are still in their developmental stage mentally, physically, and athletically, meaning that in sports, skill development, learning the fundamentals, and how to play the game should be the main goal of practices and games. Unfortunately, many coaches at this age level are more concerned with winning the next tournament or championship, so the majority of practice time is spent on game tactics instead of developing basic skills that can be improved upon each year/season. As a result, we produce developmental athletes who over compete and are undertrained with poor movement quality. Too much focus on winning also creates bad habits in athletes as they will most likely neglect the proper technique in order to score or defend.
2. Chronological age is not always considered when designing practice/game schedules and also drills that are completed in practice.
Many private sport organizations and programs with no limit on practices or number of games, adopt a high school or college practice/game schedule for elementary school athletes. This most likely includes too many practices or practices/training sessions that are too long in durations, too many games in relations to practice, or too many games in a short amount of time without adequate rest. Since these athletes are still growing physically and psychologically, they are not able to handle the same mental and physical stresses nor can they recover as quickly as older athletes. Even the athletes who are genetically superior and are far more athletic than their peers, should still participate in age-appropriate training (although competing up a grade or two may be beneficial). Just because an athlete has more physical gifts, does not mean they are ready for intense training, as their brains are still developing like the rest of the kids their age.
3. There is little to no collaboration between private sports clubs, school teams, and Physical education programs.
This is true on from kindergarten to high school, and is something that is out of most coaches' control, so I won't harp on it too long. School teams are never on the same page as club or select teams, and physical education programs are not in cahoots with either organization. True physical education should be about physical literacy and improving one's quality of movement, not just physical activity. Communication between PE teachers and coaches can ensure that the movement qualities necessary to perform age appropriate skills are being developed during the PE class, so that coaches can focus on skill development. Collaboration between school coaches and rec/club coaches will ensure that the athletes isn't being taught conflicting techniques or tactics, that they aren't being over trained, or that no conflicting messages are being promoted from one organization about another.
There are plenty more flaws in our youth sports development program, but to avoid being too lengthy I only listed three. Over the next few weeks I will be publishing articles on long term athletic development, giving practical advice on age appropriate training.
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