Teaching kids to work hard these days involves a lot of challenges. One of the biggest challenges is getting them to keep trying when they just aren’t as fast, strong, or skilled as their peers in whatever sport they are trying to excel in. What is actually known about kids and development is that a lot of kids just show up that way. Puberty, the great equalizer, takes a lot more time to show up and start building that strength, endurance, and coordination that full grown adults are gifted with. In the meantime, those who struggle are often discouraged from trying harder or even sticking it out to allow time to do its magic.
So, aside from being naturally gifted, what is the one thing that can keep the not-so-gifted from giving up altogether?
Well, its an easy question to answer. The parents and coaches who have the privilege of working with kids need to understand the difference between selection and development.
There are a lot of sports these days where kids are funneled into tryouts at earlier and earlier ages. If you don’t make the team, where you get to hone your skills with other experienced and skilled players, you have other options. You can go to camps with hundreds of other kids where you don’t get focused attention or one-on-one coaching, your parents can pay a lot of money to send you to specialized skills classes or one-on-one sessions with a coach, or you can play in the rec leagues where the season usually starts immediately with little to no practice and the presence of talent to sharpen your own game skills is usually hit or miss.
Now, I’m being a little hyperbolic. Its not all bad. All a lot of kids need is time on the field or court to better develop those skills and the conditioning they need to get better. So, camps, rec leagues, and just playing with friends is all good for getting better.
However, there are some superheros out there who are exactly what every kid needs to become the best they can be. These are the parents and coaches who include everyone, spend time teaching the basics, and make sure that everyone knows what their personal talents are. Kids don’t have to win all the time, they just need someone to tell them what they do well and how they can get better. These superheroes are individuals who understand that kids are clay to be molded and we really don’t know their actual potential. Sometimes, its about finding the right position or sport, sometimes its just about letting time do its magic. The main objective in coaching kids is to keep them hungry while their bodies and minds develop. Active kids who become active adults tend to be healthier and more able than those who are not.
In my experience, I’ve seen mediocre soccer players become high level weightlifters and track and field athletes. I’ve seen mediocre soccer players become incredible lacrosse players. And I’ve seen horribly unathletic teenagers become high level athletes as adults. The worst thing we can do is discourage anyone before they’ve found what they are good at.
I understand that sports are incredibly important to a lot of families and so we are always going to have a lot of competition and extreme selection for the best of the best. However, realize that there are a lot of kids who just want to play. And I think encouraging that, however we can, is the most important thing of all.