Do you have a plan for your young athlete's journey?
By Greg Bach
Young athletes chasing grand dreams need boundless passion, a persistent work ethic and – of course – talent, among the lengthy list of attributes most often linked with success.
But what often goes unnoticed is that it also takes a sound parenting plan built for withstanding the many factors that can sabotage a youngster’s journey, says Jonathan Edwards, a former high school All-American lacrosse goalie and a U.S. Olympian who finished fourth in the 1994 Winter Games in luge doubles.
“What tends to happen is when families don’t have a plan they fall for anything, so we get the fear of missing out syndrome,” says Edwards, author of An Athlete’s Guide to Winning in Sports and Life. “So if your lacrosse team has a summer league and then there is a travel team and then they are going to do fall ball together then you can’t play soccer, so you get stuck in these unthinking ruts where it gets really messy.”
When parents don’t have a blueprint in place they’ll traverse the youth sports landscape committing many of the same mistakes other families are – most notably pushing their child without allowing for adequate rest, recovery and time away from the sport.
“If you don’t have a plan then you just think that more is going to get it done and that can definitely guarantee failure,” Edwards says. “It rarely guarantees success.”
IT’S OK TO DREAM BIG
While the chances of a young athlete reaching the Olympics like Edwards did are incredibly small, he believes that shouldn’t be the focal point. “If you focus on what’s possible then everything is possible,” he says. “If you focus on how slim your chances are and all the things that could possibly go wrong then you are going to get that. I get athletes and their families to say ‘it’s ok that you want to be really good at this’ because once you do then you have a plan and then your brain starts looking for reasons why as opposed to reasons why not.”
Edwards points to himself as a prime example of what can happen rather than what the odds say isn’t likely to occur. “I was the only child of two musicians and I didn’t even get into sports until really late,” he says. “So if it can happen to me it can happen to anyone.”
Edwards learned through his experiences in sports the value of embracing a long-term focus, accepting that there were going to be practices and performances that didn’t meet expectations.
But they were all steps along the path to improvement and it is something he stresses with athletes at all levels that he works with.
“Having a long-term focus gave me permission to think and view myself in the long-term,” he explains. “So when I had a bad practice it was ok because my vision was always on this future vision of me. When athletes don’t have that vision then they have what I call a light switch mentality. So if you have a good practice then everything is good; but if you have a bad practice then now the light switch is off. So it’s a massive roller coaster of emotions, but if you are thinking long-term then those tend to go away and the daily practices tend to even out.”
ADULT EMOTIONS: DON’T PROJECT THEM ON YOUR KIDS
Moms and Dads often emphasize certain games on their young athlete’s schedule as more important than others, which drags more stress into the contest and a greater likelihood of the child failing to deliver a quality performance.
“I was working with a hockey mom a couple years ago and she talked about how her son had a big game coming up and I told her to stop saying that because there are no big games,” Edwards says. “Every day is an opportunity to show how you can compete, and that includes practice. But all of a sudden if it’s being called a big game the athlete has all of these emotions that start bubbling up that he doesn’t know how to deal with and then failure ensues. When athletes come out every day and put their best foot forward then the results come as they may and the athlete doesn’t have this roller coaster of emotions. So I try to get coaches and parents not to project their adult emotions onto their kids.”
When coaches take this approach with their teams – not emphasizing one game over any other – athletes are free to simply give their best effort without the burden of trying to do something different because someone has slapped a ‘big game’ label on the contest.
“As a coach if you come to practice every day with a plan for your athletes your kids will enjoy a practice that is structured and has energy and every day will be a good day,” says Edwards, who created The Athlete Breakthrough Blueprint, an eight-week coaching program for athletes. “The bottom line is that we have to have more of a steady approach to training and competing – that way performance is guaranteed. If you are hoping to all of a sudden turn it on for game day because today is a big day, then you are caught in all these strange emotions and performance usually falls apart at that point.”
Grand Valley State University professor Dr. Jon Coles studied college athletes and the impact of their parents’ behavior on their youth sports experiences. Use these insights to bolster your child’s athletic journey
When young athletes become insecure about their bodies it can send them down a dangerous path, affecting both their physical and mental well-being
Renowned sports psychologist Dr. Jim Taylor, author of Raising Young Athletes, delivers all-important insight to help you navigate your child’s youth sports journey and help them reap the benefits of a positive experience
Dr. Robert Weil, co-author of #HeySportsParents! and a leading sports podiatrist, on what you need to know when it comes to your young athletes and the shoes they wear to compete