Children and chaos: Don’t strive for perfection (column)
April 23, 2018
Youth sports have changed a great deal over the decades.
The group of boys kicking around a ball in the park has evolved into club-level soccer teams who are sponsored by Nike and traveling the world.
Undoubtedly, many of these changes have led to increased competitiveness, marketability and opportunity for youth athletes.
However, when developing raw talent, the question that always arises is "how much is too much?"
This applies to practice time, coaching, travel, games, equipment and more.
Where is the line drawn when kids are no longer kids? Children are not just small adults, they require free play and limited structure, especially early on. In fact, it has been proposed that too much structure inhibits the development of the youth athlete.
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Variability results in adaptable children who can work through challenges, thus we must be careful with too much structure.
A LITTLE CHAOS goes a long way
Recently I attended a sports movement skill conference in Minneapolis, and learned from some of the greatest strength and conditioning minds out there.
Ted Kroeten made an excellent presentation discussing play work acquisition and learning in youth. To summarize, the acquisition of sport skill is an unconscious process and can only be gained through free play and self-discovery.
Kroten says like language, movement can be learned but will never be fluent if acquisition isn't allowed.
Up until peak height velocity (maturation), youth should be allotted a great deal of free play and increase deliberate practice beyond maturation.
Kroeten is a soccer coach himself with middle school and high school athletes.
Interestingly, Kroeten says that he never implements specific shooting drills, cone drills or other typical soccer practice tactics. Instead, he allows his athletes to play barefoot, use different types of balls, choose the surface they want to play on and so forth.
The result, you ask? The team wins a championship almost every year.
Of course, I am not advocating complete chaos and zero structure to youth sports, however, it may be more appropriate to allow freedom at the earlier stages.
I aim to appropriately apply these educational experiences to the way I train my own athletes. For youth ski and snowboard athletes, variability is all they know. The conditions are never the same run to run, nor are the courses.
The sport coaches we have do an excellent job of executing training with the athletes on hill. My goal then becomes to provide various stimuli in and out of the gym.
In strength training, we will never stray from fundamental movement patterns such as squatting, hinging, pressing, pulling, lunging, etc. We will, however, alter the execution of the movements via tempo, frequency, range of motion, and equipment.
On an even larger scale, I aim to expose athletes to "imperfect" situations outside of the gym. We will do reactive drills, tumbling, rolling, cutting, twisting, and diving. All things that cannot not be taught while skiing from one gate to the next.
Letting athletes acquire new skills through experimentation is not only effective, but extremely engaging as well. Athletes have more fun and look forward to training.
If you take anything away from this article, then I'd like it to be that variability and imperfect situations help develop better athletes.
I still believe that structure and deliberate practice are extremely important for athletes to develop skill and discipline. That being said, however, it should be done in conjunction with free play, especially prior to peak height velocity. Thanks for reading, as always.
Jimmy Pritchard has a B.S. from Colorado Mesa University and is a certified strength and conditioning specialist through the National Strength and Conditioning Association. He is the Assistant Strength Coach at Ski and Snowboard Club Vail. Pritchard's passion is to help others meet, and often exceed their goals in all areas of fitness. Contact him at 970-331-3513 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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