I’m writing this from the view of a Sports Performance Coach, Soccer Coach and Parent.
I have this perspective because I am all three, and I’ve had to make decisions that have given my kids what they NEED even if it’s not what they think they want. The 3 things I’m going to lay down for your are not easy. In many cases they buck the trend of what we see everyday in our society.
I’m writing this article to all fellow coaches, caretakers and parents to make the tough decisions. The less fun decisions that your kids may not appreciate now, but will, when their athletic career ends. I’m writing this article with love, tough love.
Recently, an article was written that outlines the Guidelines from the NATA (National Athletic Trainers Association) that is an in your face statement that addresses the health risks and injuries associated with early specialization and overuse from youth sports. These are the folks that assess injury and do their best to take care of our injured young players. They are healthcare professionals who specialize in the prevention, diagnosis, treatment, and rehabilitation of injuries and sport-related illnesses.
This is even more evidence that we need to take action of the behalf our kids.
Understanding we live in a world where the social pressures are real, here’s a starting point to strongly consider in order to keep your child healthy, strong and continuing to develop (get better) at the sport they love.
Keep in mind that saying NO to the right things IS saying YES to the physical health and well being of your young athlete.
There is what is optimal for our kids, and then there is what’s possible. My hope is that my points cause at least a shift in the right direction.
1.) Lead the way. Far too often decisions are based off of what everyone else is doing. Fear of being “the only one” is very real. On both sides. Being the only one to not specialize early, play on multiple teams or jump at every opportunity for more skills sessions. Being the only one to keep the perspective of long term development. Being the only one to not assess development or improvement from one game, practice, tournament or even season…but to do so over the years.
Certainly, being one of the few to not specialize or by all means not saying yes to play on 3 teams during the course of one season may not be popular…especially with your own child.
One of the primary roles as coaches and parents is to to sift through the murky landscape of youth sports, gather credible information, and make decisions that are not solely based on emotion that’s directed towards their overall and long term benefit.
Lead the way. Be an example of reason and long term planning for them.
2.) Saying no is never easy. I’ve personally taken so much heat over the past years even with my own kids. I’ve taken harsh criticism for not enrolling either of my boys in club soccer before middle school. The daggers of “They’ll fall behind” or even “You’re making a huge mistake not allowing them to play at a higher level” or worse yet, “You’re being selfish and foolish”.
Saying no to Fall “College Showcase Tournaments” that are valued as prestigious and critical for college recruiting as freshmen in High School (when by law players cannot be recruited nor are college coaches going to these tournaments to look at younger players or to find a diamond in the rough) has resulted in taking fiery darts even from other parents that just can’t understand why.
When it’s explained that after a long and grueling High School season, kids need rest and recovery as they enter and off-season program for further strength and conditioning for the following season, I get looked at like U10 ref making a bad call in a u16 match.
Have I screwed up? God yes and will most likely mess up again.
Saying no to kids even when it seems like a good opportunity is paramount when the evidence is present that it can be harmful. Yes they love soccer. Yes they get to play with their friends. Yes, they may be temporarily upset at the word no. More importantly, that single word may be the linchpin to their long term emotional and physical health.
Is that not more important?
3.) Say yes to a proper sports performance training program that will give your child the tools to success on and off the field. Unless you can tell me that your child is growing up running, crawling, climbing, pushing, pulling, chasing, being chased and playing outside uncoached…your child does not have the athletic attributes to truly be their best on the field. Yes, they may be competing at a high level but take it from someone who has coached 1000’s of kids over the past 2+ decades, it’s not enough.
*Muscle tissue quality
*Prediction and Anticipation
*Social development and leadership skills
This is the short list of what kids need, and used to get by playing in uncoached environments, that they are lacking today.
All this said, citing Messi, Tiger Woods or any single athlete (even your own) that has bucked the overwhelming statistics supporting the health risks of never saying no to the wrong things and yes to the right things…
It’s time to be realistic and know that those examples are one in a million.
It’s time that we start making conscious decisions as coaches and parents that are pointing our kids in the right direction.
Dave- I like your article and having been a Soccer Coach (25 years) & Parent (28 years) plus a Personal Trainer. (8 years). I agree with a lot of things that you say regarding rest & performance & risk of injury. Plus my years of coaching college soccer changed the way I coached youth soccer.
However with regard to specialization, I want to make a differentiation— in many other countries kids grow up specializing in soccer. When you go to South America & most of Europe & I would venture Africa as well, most kids are playing soccer. And that’s it. All year round.
The important difference I think we need to make the same with what I equate to basketball in the USA. If you go to an “open” basketball court in an urban environment in the USA, you will find kids playing basketball. Same is true for soccer around the world. The difference with these games is that they are not organized or officiated or monitored by anyone except the players. When kids get tired, they rest. They take breaks, there is no instruction. They just play. This used to be true with ice hockey in Canada too (aka shinny).
For me the problem (with soccer specialization) is kids playing too many organized games and particularly at the high school/middle school level. Sometimes playing 2 or 3 games in week with training in between and club games on the weekends is too much. That type of specialization is wearing kids out!
Thanks for writing.
Thanks Coach! I agree it is the organized and coached specialization that is most damaging. A caveat to your point, is that in the US are not playing, rough housing, climbing, crawling, riding bikes etc on their own in addition to early specialization.