Be careful not to write off young under performers in sport too soon. In any sport across any age group there will be a range of performance levels. From the young age group athlete that’s scoring at will through to the kid who’s daydreaming and watching the Boeing Airbus soar past! In an age when there’s never been so much opportunity for youth sports, we see excellence rewarded via Academies, elite satellite centres and talent groups. Those that can ‘make it’ are identified and nurtured from young ages. The rest are left to ‘participate’ recreationally.
Coaches and parents alike can be guilty of writing off sporting potential too early. I once had a parent tell me that her son, 11 at the time, could never be a professional footballer. This comment was made in the broader context of the state of todays youth. A generation that expects results now, instant gratification and has a distinct lack of work ethic. As a father of three boys, two of whom were ‘scouted’ as talented athletes, I had to disagree with the viewpoint that young people cannot excel in sport if they are not amongst the best performers from an early age.
Here is why it’s important to keep the performance doors open for the age group athlete.
Mind the Gap Please
Early maturing children thrive in age group squads. As a result they are relatively bigger, stronger, faster, more coordinated. Furthermore, they can be more confident and therefore quicker to take on board concepts a coach is trying to impart. The age group athlete born at the start of selection year is at a distinct advantage. This is called the relative age effect. It’s been demonstrated as a bias across youth and professional sport for decades.
Selection into age group squads that focus on performance is simply a cross sectional comparison. Older, more mature children will fare better in these situations. Selection isn’t necessarily based upon potential – after all, it’s so difficult to predict. AT NK Fitness we work with lots of age group athletes who are relatively young or undersized. Equipping the late developer with movement skills and awareness to combat more powerful players is key to keeping them in the game. At the end of the day youth athletes become adult athletes and the physical playing field is levelled.
Bloody hard work – the magic ingredient
I’ve been accused of being a dreamer. Underdogs can win. Under performers and late bloomers can excel in sport. Young athletes must be encouraged to follow their dreams. However, many forget one key message. Athletes must work their socks off in pursuit of their goals. Especially, if the dream is to play at a high level. Putting in thousands of hours of deliberate practice and smart training is a must for the age group athlete to overcome the odds. Therefore, the aspiring youth athlete must recognise the importance of the ‘process’ of training.
All Change Please
Something that is lost on many coaches and parents is how sport evolves through the age groups. In no sport does the senior elite level look like the junior level of the sport. For example, team sports become much more physical. The requisite skills and attributes to excel as an age group athlete vary significantly from those required at the top level. Many young athletes can come through late as their skill set suits the needs of the sport better in the latter years of the sport. There are countless examples of this in professional sport.
There is also the fact that elite sport is a business. To carve a career out as an athlete one simply has to better than their peers at one thing. The elite performer is not required to be all things to all people. Just do your job, and do it well.