Thanks to the rise of social media, we have greater access to the training routines of professional athletes than ever before.
Although there are numerous benefits of this increased transparency, it is not without its drawbacks. Namely, parents seeing a pro utilize a highly advanced drill or exercise, then deciding “my kid needs to do that.” These pros also pull off exquisite displays of athleticism during games which are then blasted across the internet, solidifying the parent’s opinion that their 11-year-old should be training like these million-dollar athletes.
They then approach the child’s coach and/or trainer and ask why their kid isn’t working out like Saquon Barkley or LeBron James. What these parents don’t understand is that long-term athletic development is like an iceberg. At the top of the iceberg are the jaw-dropping highlights you see from pro superstars. But such displays wouldn’t be possible without a strong, diverse foundation of athleticism from which to pull. Owning the foundational movement patterns of power, agility and speed are the cornerstones of athletic performance, but many parents want to skip over building the foundation and take their kid right to the peak. It just doesn’t work that way.
Chris Schwarz, the head strength and conditioning coach of the Ottawa Senators, recently shared his thoughts on this issue in an extensive interview with STACK. In addition to his gig with the Senators, Schwarz has trained young athletes for decades, giving him a unique perspective on the situation.
“(Parents today) want to Frankenstein everything. Take this skill, take that, put them all together, and in the end he becomes a great athlete. That’s not the way it is,” Schwarz says. “We’re trying to round third and we haven’t even gotten to first on most of the fundamentals.”
So what’s a trainer to do when a parent comes to them with grandiose ideas of their kid performing expert-level moves that are years beyond their training age?
This is where utilizing baseline assessments can be hugely beneficial. Assessments like the Functional Movement Screening can help establish a baseline of an athlete’s movement quality and reveal areas of dysfunction. These screenings help create smarter programs and act as a benchmark for results, which is more than enough to make them a critical component of a training program. But they also play an important role in framing the parent’s expectations.
The results of the assessment should be discussed with the athlete and their parents. The review of the results is the baseline for developing a training program. These foundational movements and postural assessments are visual/physical evidence of areas that need to be addressed. Through this discussion, keep the communication open, address the parent’s and athlete’s questions, and share your model that fits both the athlete’s needs and goals.
The more informed the parent is on where their child stands, the better appreciation for long-term athletic development they’ll hopefully gain. When you know your child has issue just staying statically balanced on one leg, you’re going to be less likely to ask their trainer why they’re not doing some crazy single-leg BOSU ball plyometric you saw on Instagram.
If you can make the parent an ally in your effort to develop the athlete the right way, that’s a huge step. This is why communication is so crucial. The purpose of any training program is for future development, not just in sport, but also for life. Establishing those healthy habits for the athlete to continue after sports will ensure an active lifestyle and longevity, and the parents play an essential role in that.
When training young athletes, my focus is on achieving a diverse array of quality movement patterns, enhancing longevity, and minimizing athlete burnout. The best way to minimize athlete burnout is to make sure the kid is having fun with what they’re doing.
Young athletes are surprisingly in tune with their body provided they are properly educated. With each movement, explain the purpose of the movement, teach them why they are performing the drill, and the basic concepts of how the training will translate to function, sport and athletic performance. Don’t be afraid to do the same for their parents if you think it will help them buy in. Once a kid understands why they are doing the drill, they’re more likely to buy into the program and take pleasure in the process. This allows the athlete to have a voice, helps them to maximize training each day, and allows them to better know when they’re prepared to take on certain movements.
Develop programming that offers variety, but works toward your common goal. The training should compliment the athlete, but promote overall health, establishing healthy models to continue on years after the sport is finished.
Above all else, make it fun. When a kid is enjoying their training and is educated on why they’re doing it, and their parent is on the same page, that’s a productive environment for growth. We have the ability to influence and have an impact on the next generation. Lay the foundation for long-term development, longevity, and overall health.
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