By Coach Hoy, MS, CSCS, SCCC, PES
In my years as a strength and conditioning professional I have had the opportunity to coach a lot of young athletes, from varying ability levels and many different sports. I have been involved with organizations responsible for long term youth athlete development: some of which did an excellent job with their task and others who have failed miserably. At the same time, I have been fortunate enough to work with Olympic, Professional, and high level high school, college, and amateur athletes from many different sports, who all benefitted from coaches and parents who helped foster development and a passion for sports and growth along the way. (9 Coaching Guidelines)
Fitness and performance training for young athletes is very, very different than it is for the adult and young adult athletes. The athlete development system(s) are also different and more advanced. (older athletes) Yet, please note how important it is to have structure, and to have a system for development no matter the age. It is just as important to notice that coaches for these high level athletes are typically well versed, experienced, and students themselves of the sport they are coaching.
In America, the best coaches typically migrate towards the positions with the highest monetary potential—namely the high level collegiate programs and professional sports organizations. Unfortunately, the young athletes in this country are often coached by volunteers, with little or no experience coaching sports or teaching groups of young athletes. I’m not implying that there aren’t excellent volunteer coaches tasked with the responsibility of ethically developing young athletes physically and mentally, but I am saying that there are quite a few that are doing a poor job. As a retired competitive athlete, I can honestly say I had my experience of both types when I was a young athlete.
I’m not even going to begin to dive into possible wide spread athlete development solutions in this article. I will, however, address the fact that due to the lack of consistent structure or systemization of youth sports, young athletes are dropping out of sports at an alarming rate by the time they reach college age. (Side Note: Some national governing bodies, such as USA Hockey, have been doing an excellent job addressing not only the long term development needs of the athletes, but also educating the coaches to maximize/foster growth and development).
This is also one of the main reasons we are seeing athletes ‘peaking’ too early only to have sub-par performances by the time they graduate high school. Is it the job of our youth sports coaches to create 12 year old superstars? Ever wonder why a youth baseball team could be the best team in the world and yet fail to win a high school state championship? Again, these are much larger issues that I would like to address in later blog posts.
What I would like to share with you today is something I found when I was recently re-reading through some pages in the book “Developmental Essentials: The Foundations of Youth Conditioning.” This book is the official textbook of the IYCA Developmental Coaching System. On page 23 of the book, it says that in the 1980’s two men (Dr. Vern Seefeldt and Dr. Rainier Martens) developed a “Bill of Rights for Young Athletes” in an attempt to establish appropriate guidelines to help assure that young athletes will have suitable programs designed to meet each of their needs.
The “Bill of Rights for Young Athletes” (to foster athlete development) reads as follows:
- Right to participate in sports.
- Right to participate at a level commensurate with each child’s maturity and ability.
- Right to have qualified adult leadership.
- Right to play as a child and not as an adult.
- Right of children to share in the leadership and decision-making of their sport participation.
- Right to participate in safe and healthy environments.
- Right to proper preparation for participation in sports. Right to an equal opportunity to strive for success.
- Right to be treated with dignity.
- Right to have fun in sports.
Many sport organizations across the U.S. have adopted these as guidelines for their coaches to follow. A coaches’ handbook by the Kentucky Youth Soccer Association also created additional guidelines for their coaches to follow. These guidelines cover such things as a coach being a positive role model, a facilitator of young people, and being a person that understands working with young people (p. 23, IYCA Textbook).
As a result of the many conversations about youth sports and youth sports development over the years, and with the continued push of consumerism and big businesses capitalizing on young athletes, I think that it is plain to see that something needs to be done to keep American youth sports as developmental programs for not only potentially higher levels of sports participation later in life, but also for life skills such as character, teamwork, and leadership, and to create an appreciation for activity, exercise, and competition. I think that youth sports organization moving towards a more structured approach to athlete development is the correct approach.
If you were fortunate enough to catch any of the most recent Olympic games, you may have overheard some of the broadcasters talking about Olympic athlete development in other countries. They have systemized, structured development programs that start very young. They develop the total young person and have excellent coaches trained in each system working with the athletes at early ages, and continuing all the way through the Olympic competition years. Again, this is an issue for another article, but these types of systems are being used successfully in many other countries to help develop healthy lifelong habits for young people.
Please take a close look at your sports organization, no matter if you are competing or coaching . Is there still a system for development in all areas, or is it a little less structured and organized? Does the organization support growth and coach education programs? What is the athletic performance model—is it a high performance model? Do the coaches focus on player development, or on winning every game and trying to create 12 year old superstars? Maybe it’s time for some change. Maybe it’s time to refocus and establish a “bill of rights” and some coaching guidelines.
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