Vail Daily column: Providing the right climate for young athletes |

Vail Daily column: Providing the right climate for young athletes

Autumn is upon us. I was observing an aspen tree in Edwards yesterday when I noticed a handful of leaves were already morphing into a pale golden glory. The fall presents the best weather of the year at times, and I certainly hope that we have a nice long Indian Summer. Regardless, school is starting in a few weeks and sports participation for our youth will begin. Especially in our community, with the relative affluence and professional resources, the number of sporting opportunities and the breadth involved are exciting. We are far from the days of church-yard football and pond hockey on East State Street after school. Sports today are big business, even for the youth of our valley.

The increased demand for high level competition has created some very interesting programs including dietary intervention, specialized skills training, fitness systems and medical techniques to prepare the next generation athletes. This volume of participation and associated competition has challenged parents and coaches to appropriately guide and select the right opportunities for youth; often the emphasis on sports for young athletes gets too specific too early. We expect that specialization will increase the chances of a successful collegiate career or further.


An important component to raising a successful athlete is to involve them with as many sports as possible during their pre-adolescent years to expose them to opportunities they may or may not enjoy. Some years ago, I trained a very talented young athlete in his early teens who was dead set on playing collegiate basketball. William couldn’t focus on anything else than the preparation and dreams of playing for Duke. His grades were good enough. He had the size, strength and raw ability. During the summer of his junior year of high school, he quit. His parents informed me that unbeknown to them, William really didn’t enjoy playing that much. He spent two years (three days per week) in the weight room with me and never mentioned that he really didn’t enjoy basketball. Even during times when we discussed his dreams and aspirations, William never shared his disdain for the sport. He was heavily involved in the sport of basketball alone because of his innate talent and the associated pressure to perform.


How many parents, teachers and coaches pressure our youth to be something they’re not? How many parents who really just want the best for their kids with great intentions, fail to recognize the true heart of their child? We miss this in our competitive culture and fail to recognize that maybe William just wanted to be involved in student council because of his passion for leadership and desire for entrepreneurship.

Providing variety to some extent provides outlets for kids to explore and find their desires and skill sets. Of course we can take this too far when our children really just need to play, have fun with their peers and just be kids. We know of the examples of children who are far too busy and overwhelmed with activity. This is a detrimental position as well. Again, within reason, we need to let youth explore to find their gifts.


Lastly, the same sentiment applies to fitness training for youth. Even though my fitness philosophy is firmly rooted in establishing good movement first and then getting strong in basic exercises, I feel youth need to be exposed to as much variety as possible. Generally, the young athletes’ attention span is too short; we must not bombard them with too many exercise selections for the sake of it. However, variety exposes them to different movement patterns, reduces overuse injuries, creates balance and creates a foundation for more specific work down the road. As far as the gym is concerned, any successful athlete builds a foundation using a high level of volume before addressing intensity with specific exercises.

The overall takeaway message is that we need to be reasonable with our athletic expectations on our youth. We need to expose them to the competitive realm without overwhelming them with unrealistic expectations. Our fitness model needs to follow suit. Champions aren’t created overnight, and our fitness direction needs to create a fun, safe environment that builds a foundation.

Stay tuned for next week’s article as I will discuss how to structure a comprehensive strength and conditioning program for the budding athlete.

Ryan Richards has a B.S. from Ohio University and is a certified strength and conditioning specialist through the National Strength and Conditioning Association. He is the personal trainer at the Sonnenalp Golf Club and the owner of R2HP, an athlete consulting and personal training company. Richards’ passion comes from overcoming childhood obesity and a T1-L3 spinal fusion. Contact him at or 970-401-0720.

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