7 Simple Strategies for Building the Complete Youth Athlete

Youth sports have exploded over the last 2o years. With greater accessibility to live streaming sports, kids are getting more exposure to all collegiate sports. Kids are dreaming of college athletics at a much earlier age than I was when I played youth sports. With more kids chasing a singular goal, new premiums are placed on skills, playing ability, and getting an edge on the competition.

While this isn’t exclusive to sports–middle schoolers are feeling the heat from SATs these days–it’s important to understand the role sports should be playing in the youth athlete’s life and take the safest, most appropriate steps to foster healthy physical and mental growth.

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    This one is for the parents. We all know you want the best for your kids and want no stone left un-turned. That said, you’ve handed your young athlete over to an expert. These days, there are very few “parent coaches” past Tee Ball. The coach has a resume of playing and/or coaching at some of the highest levels of athletics. Let the coach teach the skills. Let the coach teach the plays and the systems. Your athlete has a lot of voices in his/her ear between private skills development coaches, in-season coaches, camp coaches, etc. Another voice in the room is going to cause confusion and conflict within the athlete’s head, particularly because yours could be the most powerful. Take a step back and let the coach do his/her job… making your kid better.
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    Sports should be teaching kids the effort level required to achieve something. It takes hard work, day-in and day-out. Sports teaches kids the value of cooperation, accountability, and good sportsmanship. Every loss or setback is a chance to grow and learn from your mistakes. Keep that in mind, the next time your young athlete doesn’t make the team. That’s a chance for you the parent to instill resiliency and positive values or blame favoritism and politics. Am I saying that coaches don’t get it wrong sometimes. Absolutely not. However, they have a vision for the team and they’re filling the slots as they see fit. Let’s get the young athlete back to work and learn from it the right way so they grow into a well-rounded adult.
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    With the improvements in modern science, things that were once only accessible by pro athletes, are now available to almost everybody. Make sure you have a primary care physician, chiropractor, private skills coach, strength and conditioning specialist, and a physical therapist/ athletic trainer. While you don’t need to see some of these people every week, develop strong relationships with them.The more they know your young athlete, the more they will feel invested in his/her future and the more they will be able to help make an impact on that future.
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    Overtraining and burnout are very real. Are they likely? Not at first. Thank of your kid like a car for a second. Focusing on a single sport and playing it year-round, puts a lot of miles on the athlete early on. The last thing anyone wants is for the athlete to reach high school and be tired of playing the sport he/she once loved with a passion. Playing multiple sports allows all parties involved to take a step back an relax for a bit. Playing baseball or lax once the football season is over gives the mind a break and promotes a renewed vigor once it comes time to start training for football again. Furthermore, the athlete gets to develop different skill sets and use his/her muscles differently, which will improve athleticism in the long run.
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    While playing multiple sports is great, the one problem is that it CANNOT create muscular balance in a growing athlete’s body. Think about typical plays in all sports for a second. There’s one common theme: they’re all being performed in the front of the body. Kids that play sports but don’t strength train are setting themselves up for injury in the future because of the imbalances created between anterior (front) and posterior (back) muscle groups. Injury prevention is as much a part of a qualified strength and conditioning coach’s skill set as performance enhancement. Find a quality coach and see him/her weekly to build a long career.
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    With every major holiday comes more candy. It’s basically a rite of passage to get sick from all the sugar on Halloween or Easter. However, it’s imperative to instill the importance of a balanced diet in the young athlete from an early age. Nutrition can have a positive or negative effect on performance. I’m not saying to run out and buy a tubs of protein powder, creatine, pre-workout, etc. Just make sure he/she gets all the major food groups regularly. Discuss this with one of the professionals from your support staff.
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    Even though more importance is being placed on development at an earlier age, we should never forget that they’re still just kids. They’re going to tell bad jokes, they’re going to deal with adversity poorly (at first), and they’re not going to want to eat their vegetables. Sports at this age are still, at the heart and soul of it, just a game… and games are supposed to be fun. Sure losing is supposed to suck a little and I’m a firm believer that not every kid should receive a participation trophy (remember the lessons that sports are supposed to be teaching). Sure the stakes are naturally higher when travel and higher tuition is on the line. At the end of the day, they’ll blow off some steam and just be happy to have some Gatorade and pizza after the game with their friends.


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Coach Runner is the Owner and Director of Sports Performance at Full-Stride Performance. Prior to founding FSP, Runner was formerly the Strength & Conditioning Coach for the Atlanta Gladiators of the East Coast Hockey League, a minor league affiliate of the NHL's Boston Bruins. Coach Runner was also the Head Strength & Conditioning Coach for the Husson University Eagles, Graduate Assistant Strength Coach at the University of Maine, and a former collegiate hockey player for Plymouth State University. He earned his Master of Science degree in Kinesiology & Exercise Science from the University of Maine and is recognized as a Certified Strength & Conditioning Specialist by the National Strength & Conditioning Association in addition to numerous other certifications.

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