Brought to you by the Liberty Mutual Insurance Responsible Sports program
The season is over.
Goals have been reached. Foes have been vanquished, scores settled, traditions upheld, friendships fortified, and personal growth continued, with still so much room left for improvement.
To succeed at any and all levels of competition in our modern athletic era, you’ve got to be ready and willing to always seek out a new edge. Your training must not only be innovative, but enduring. It’s often said that in today’s athletic landscape, "there is no offseason."
But should even young athletes follow this maxim to the letter? Or should they be encouraged to take an extended break – especially following physically, mentally and emotionally grueling and pressurized seasons in tough sports like soccer.
And if and when young athletes do decide to continue their training, should they do so with private coaches and trainers, with a friend in a weight room and on a track or as part of a team in an entirely new sport?
And no matter what they decide to do, how can young athletes maintain the passion and love that steered them towards their chosen and preferred sport in the first place – even when the games and scores don’t really count?
This month the team at Liberty Mutual Insurance Responsible Sports, along with the experts at Positive Coaching Alliance (PCA), take a closer look at how Responsible Coaches and Sports Parents alike can make sure their kids stay active and passionate about their sport all throughout the offseason.
Do You Need An Offseason?
Today’s athletes are encouraged and often required to play, practice and train seemingly 24/7, 365 days a year.
But whether you’re a world-class Olympian or a teenager striving to make the JV team, burn out is a very real thing. Not just for the athletes themselves, either. Responsible Coaches and Responsible Sports Parents can easily find themselves feeling burnt out, due to the heavy investments of time, energy, emotion and focus required in competitive athletics.
Should there be an offseason? Should we as Responsible Coaches and Responsible Sports Parents insist on an offseason?
Of course, strong arguments exist on both sides of this valuable debate. On the side of those advocating for a true offseason are coaches and parents who have seen and heard the very real examples of young athletes suffering burnout or even worse, injury, as a result of too much athletic activity.
The experts at Positive Coaching Alliance (PCA) grapple with these and other issues every day while working with coaches, athletes and parents, and their advice to Responsible Coaches and Responsible Parents seems quite sound to us:
Listen to Your Kids
Listening to your kids in a Responsible Sports way can be broken down into a few different components:
- Sit down and talk about their goals, as opposed to your goals, for their youth sports experience. Pay as much attention to not just what they say, but what they DON’T say, and the unwritten message in their body language.
- Talk about how your child can focus on effort and learning rather than on winning as a way to ensure their self-betterment and enjoyment are at the focal point of your child’s youth sports experience.
- Talk before the season starts, before a game, after a game, and at the end of the season. Bottom line: talk. Keep the dialogue open, truthful and ongoing.
"Goodness" for each of us in youth sports is personal, and comes from the dialogue more than the outcome. And thanks to Positive Coaching Alliance, we’re proud to serve up some tools and ideas for how to foster this kind of dialogue.
Playing Other Sports to Excel
If you or your young athlete do make the decision to keep on pushing during the offseason, and avoid anything like an extended break, it can be helpful, insightful and even invaluable to compete in other sports that can not only keep cardiovascular and hand-eye conditioning sharp, but perhaps help hone certain skill sets vital for one’s primary sport in fresh, exciting new ways.
Our friends at Positive Coaching Alliance typically are in favor of such "cross-training," and there are a number of very sound reasons for PCA advising young athletes against specializing in any one sport too early in their development.
In fact, PCA found that when coaches pressure athletes to specialize too soon, there’s an increased risk of dropout, burnout and overuse injuries. When you factor in poor on-field performance and interpersonal stress resulting from children being pushed against their will, early specialization may very well backfire. More importantly, the win-at-all-costs mentality that leads to early specialization often comes at the expense of fun and the young athlete’s opportunities to learn life lessons through sports.
According to Dan Gould, director of the Institute for the Study of Youth Sports at Michigan State University, children should play multiple sports from ages 12 through high school. Gould also recommends that in cases where time commitments and scheduling require single-sport specialization, the child should choose the sport, with the parents’ guidance.
Of course, there’s also a rich history of outstanding athletes who excelled in multiple sports before finally landing in one sport as a professional. Their participation throughout high school and college brought gifts like increased speed, strength and agility carried over from their other sports to their primary sport. A few excellent examples of this kind of "cross training" include:
- All-time NFL great Jim Brown was inducted into both the football and lacrosse Hall of Fame.
- NFL legends Bo Jackson and Deion Sanders both playing in Major League Baseball in addition to the NFL.
- NFL stars Bob Hayes and Willie Gault were both world-class track-and-field competitors.
- Current NFL standouts Tony Gonzalez, Julius Peppers and Ronald Curry all played on their college basketball teams.
- Dave Winfield was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame, but was originally drafted by four professional teams in three different sports – basketball, football and baseball.
- Baseball pioneer Jackie Robinson had illustrious college careers in football and track-and-field as well as baseball during his time at UCLA.
- Jackie Joyner-Kersee earned Olympic medals in the heptathlon and long jump, but also was a four-year starter and All-America basketball player at UCLA.
Stay In Love with Sports
According to studies from our Responsible Sports partners, some 70% of kids quit playing sports by age 13. According to the experts at PCA, the dropout rate becomes quite high as early as age 10. When children are surveyed about why they quit, the overwhelming reason cited is: practice and games stopped feeling like fun to them.
Specifically, kids talk about the inability or lack of desire to handle the pressure to win, the yelling at them for making mistakes, and being made to sit on the bench game after games, watching other teammates play and have all the fun – as well as earn all the glory during victories.
Considering all of these factors, the question then becomes: how can Responsible Coaches and Responsible Sports Parents help their kids stay in love with sports?
More Training Tools
For more information on how you can help your young athletes keep their training methods and passion fresh all offseason long the Responsible Sports way, visit our Responsible Sports website at ResponsibleSports.com.