The greatest sign of success for a teacher… is to be able to say, ‘The children are now working as if I did not exist.’ Maria Montessori
I have not blogged in what seems like ages, but with this topic fresh on my mind, I thought it would be nice to remove them and send them into the world and see how others feel about them. That being said, these are my opinions (meaning you do not have to agree with them, and that is okay, because we can still be friends).
The gym is continuing to grow at an exceeding rate, which is fantastic (and to those that want more space, trust me, we are looking, but it is not as easy as just wanting a new building :P). With the gym growing, our mean age has started shifting downward toward the teens. This is exciting to me as a coach, because it means we can start influencing at a young age, an age where kids are still fluid. They are fluid in their movement patterns, not yet shaped by sitting all day at work and coming home to sit some more. They are not yet plagued with long stressful days at a job they may not love, so they (I won’t say always) come in with a bright attitude to learn and develop new skills. Above all, they are just hilarious and fun to work with, and for all intents and purposes push others in the gym much older than themselves to strive for a little more and to work a little harder.
This being said, I believe that if you are going to coach and train children/kids/young adults, you must take this as a serious task and somewhat of an honor. Think of it this way:
The parent has put trust in you to mold and develop the one thing they cherish most in this world. They have come to you for the purpose of making their young person not only a better athlete, but to help develop them to become a wonderful human being. So taking that into account, there are a couple of things I keep in mind to make sure that I can provide the most to every youth athlete that I train:
- It is not/should not be an easy pay day that you string along for as long as possible
They come to you because they need guidance. They want to get stronger, healthier, faster, bigger, and ultimately become better athletes. To some, this means you can just put something down on a piece of paper without a rhyme or reason, and sure it is hard, but is it really doing anything for the kid’s goals? Is it making them better? Is this what they are paying for? At the end of it, did you betray the trust of a parent and youth athlete?
This is something I think about with all of my programs, but especially with my youth. If we teach them well when they start, really teach them, then going forward they will have a very strong foundation that you get to be apart of for the rest of their athletic career!
2. Teach them to move before they specialize
This should be a priority to all youth coaches. These kids need to be able to perform the most basic of strength movements before they learn to do complex competition lifts. Teach them to run, jump, climb, and ultimately fall in love with movement itself, and then teach them their sport of choice!
This is a philosophy I have developed after starting to work with more and more youth sports teams. Upon programming a strength and conditioning workout, I realize that they can perform their sport at a high level with almost zero effort. However, I then ask them to do something as basic as a lunge or push-up, and it is as if I have asked them to perform a heart transplant.
If you let kids be kids and teach them to move, the rest will take care of itself.
3. You have to care
If you choose to work with kids, especially youth athletes, you have to care. I have worked with kids as long as I can remember, and a lot of the time you don’t know what type of house they are coming from. They can be from a caring and loving home, in which case, they will have a strong network of support and have role models they look up to that can help shape their love for sport, a career, and ultimately their future. On the flip side of that, you can get kids from broken homes that are in sport or programs as a way to get away from that for just a little while. This is where it matters, if they don’t have anyone that cares, then how long do you think they will really stick with this? Not only that, but you have to also remember to not only care about them as an athlete, but as a young adult in general. If they are struggling, then talk to them, because if you want to get the best performance out of them, then they need to be there physically, mentally, and emotionally.
Ask any successful athlete, and I almost guarantee, they have a coach that helped strengthen their passion and love for their sport! They had a coach that went above and beyond to help shape them and provided a strong role model for how coaches should be.
Bottom line: You have to look at your youth athletes as a person first and an athlete second.
With all that being said, when athletes train hard, they don’t always enjoy the strength and conditioning portion of their program (this can be especially true in youth). However, this is a necessary part of athletic development as it helps to keep the athlete injury free through developing strength, power, and correcting imbalances that often develop with the repetitive motions present in almost all sports.
As youth coaches, this is why it is extremely important to keep training fun, exciting, and explain to the youth and parents the purpose of every movement. If we teach them correctly at a young age, we can be apart of providing an individual a long, healthy athletic career and helping to shape the youth of tomorrow.