Fun Back in Fun

It is generally accepted with athletes that hard work is the solution to make the athlete achieve his/her best. Especially, at the youth level we parents are enticed and sometimes pressured into getting our child into the next program, clinic, camp or extra training.

“Practice like you want to play.” “Practice makes perfect” ”Train Hard win Easy” “Sacrifice for Success”

All of those quotes are great to utilize into action. The important question to ponder is how much and what age is the volume and intensity of specific sport utilized?

Society has put a priority on athletic achievement. Youth baseball goes from April to July. Tournament teams then go through August. Many skills camps and indoor go through Fall and Winter. I’m not picking on baseball because this happens in many other youth sports. We are moving from seasonal sports to a Specific sport 365days/year.

Many parents believe that hard work translates into great athletes. We may believe that successful athletes need to sacrifice. They are correct to a point. Great athletes do not become very good without the hard work and passion. The point is are we thrusting the hard work and sacrifice upon the child to an extreme that we are feeding a scenario of Burnout? “Kids sports have become much more competitive,” says Dr. Jordan Metzl, medical director of the Sports Medicine Institute for Young Athletes at the Hospital for Special Surgery in New York City. “And in general, high-level competition for young kids is not a great thing,” says Metzl, co-author of “The Young Athlete: A Sports Doctor’s Complete Guide for Parents.”

This is the scenario that is going on in today’s youth sports. It is a movement for burning out our athletes before they can blossom. What age that this is starting? The answer is 7 and sometimes even earlier.

At a certain age kids may find their gift and have the need and WILL to go to these lengths of investment for optimal performance. Studies show that below age 11 the child’s main objective is to please the parent. The kids may seem driven and have incredible desire but they want to please us first.

What about biking, skate boarding, playing tag, catch, pickup football, playing in the dirt, building a clubhouse, any new sport, etc.? How about a game of pond hockey or pick up baseball without any coach? How about just being a boy or girl?

How many of us parents think their child is the next Jason Bay, Payton Manning, or Sidney Crosby? Yes a professional athlete seems like such a cool profession. As parents how proud would we be of our children to reach that level. What an enticing goal for us to envision. It may also be quite tempting and enticing to thrust our children toward, not their dream, but our dream. The challenge then sits in our lap to not live vicariously through our children. Are we thrusting our dream upon our child’s life? If so their chance of finding their gift in sport and even life may be lost.

“Goals of sports for young kids can differ dramatically from those of their parents and coaches, says youth fitness researcher Avery Faigenbaum, an associate professor of exercise science at the University of Massachusetts in Boston.

When Faigenbaum asks kids who've quit why they're no longer interested in sports, their typical response: "It's not fun anymore." They wanted to have a good time, make friends and learn something new, he says. But make the game all about hard-core training and the final score, and many kids will sideline themselves.

What I see is that many coaches profess that it is about fun. Then they jump on the ,success at all cost, band wagon and go crazy with over scheduled and super structured programs. We see fun in our eyes and not theirs. We live in a Winning based society. Winning is awesome but kids do want to have fun 1st.

I constantly need to step back and check myself to not follow the same path. It is not serving our athletes health in the long term.

I was blessed to race as a professional Triathlete for over 10 years. I was on 2 USA National World Championship Teams and won over 30 races. I understand the giftedness, the sacrifice, and the mental tenacity to reach the pinnacle of Sport. The amount of sacrifice, giftedness and passion to reach the level of professional sports is beyond what most people could fathom. It is beyond just talent. It is beyond is hard work and practice.

I was gifted with a high VO2 MAX. This means I can take in much more oxygen than most every athlete. Hard work was not going to give me this high VO2 Max. But a passion to utilize it enabled me to become a professional athlete. This gift was fueled by a dream and a passion to reach this level.

This passion fueled me to find the best in nutrition, the best in sports psychology, the best in training programs with good coaching. The passion enabled me to want, to will myself to do what others were not willing.

"Some Parents tend to think everyone’s going to the Olympics,”

Of course, many parents are a positive force, supporting their children and making sports participation possible by taking the time to drive kids to and from practice and games. But parents who live vicariously through their children can be problematic, experts say. It's one thing for kids to dream of Olympic gold medals or Super Bowl rings and to work toward those goals. But it's another matter if parents are pushing their kids to do something they don't want or pressuring them to succeed in a way that’s hurtful.

My parents fostered a hard-core work ethic and determination. But they did not thrust a specific sport upon me. I loved Ice Hockey and today still enjoy it as a parent, player instructor, fan and coach. The fact is it does not matter how hard I would have worked or my parents would have pushed, it was not my true gift.

While getting my Masters level 5 USA Hockey Certification the most overly brought up topic among the professionals was skill development and small games. Though parents and many coaches are in the mold of drills and learning systems. They are important though without the, fun of games, and letting the sport and simple competition teach the kids you are setting your player up for uninspired, unskilled performance.

Trying to win in the short term while losing in the long term.

They see High School or Professional sports programs therefore they believe it is prudent for the 6-10 year old.

I have parents who want me to design a run/bike training program for their young child. Under the age of 12 it is just taking the fun out of running, biking or swimming. Over structured programs are taking the fun out of overall fitness which should be experienced and developed through games, unorganized or indirect sports and adventures with us as parents. Here is an Analogy, It is like building a nice home. The foundation and 1st floor have to be built with the right engineering and material. Skill and fun are your engineering and material. If it is built with balsa wood(unskilled training) and ,success at all cost engineering (over structured training), the results are not good.

There is no a proper foundation for the home. When you add the next floor it is just time before the home starts to crack then crumble. Build the foundation right and you have many options for the future. Mess the foundation up and your in trouble. Do we learn Calculus before Algebra? NO, so why do it with youth sports? We say fun before winning then we go with the pressures of mainstream and over schedule and over structure the young athlete.

Hard work and sacrifice is a prerequisite for success! This is not debated. What is debated is the passion that enables the athlete to choose for themselves is determined by an internal passion that can be facilitated by us parents letting the sport and the fun of unstructured competition fuel the Want and Will.

Is a fire hose putting out a passion that we want our children to have. Is it a fire hose of over training and over scheduling?

Being a child need not be lost in having a good athlete. The cream will rise to the top if it is fostered with a balanced approach. Fostering a discipline for excellence and success can be tough while not thrusting our own dreams upon our child’s.

A balanced approach would allow the 6,7,8,9,10 year old to play in the dirt and not just the rink or the field.

A favorite sports quote ” The hungriest dog runs the fastest” Are we overfeeding our children with too much structure and programs?

Your dream has to be your dream. Your child’s dream has to be their dream. We can encourage and help facilitate them in finding their dream though we cannot choose their dream.

Order of a Personal Excellence 1. dream 2. goals 3. discipline 4. will If it is our dream and our goals and not theirs they will not have the discipline or will to achieve their optimum performance.

Have fun, relax, encourage and go play in the dirt with your child. Learn a new sport with him/her. It is not you go do it. It is let us go do it.

That will help foster a true athlete.

Believe It, Conceive It, Achieve It,

Marc Voit
Professional Triathlete and Coach
Level 5 Masters Hockey/Powerskating Coach
C.C.N.