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To implement the LTAD model, people must fully understand the seven stages. Administrators, coaches, and parents should also remember that moving from one stage to another is based on the athlete’s development and not just chronological age; however, chronological age can be used as a guide. Some stages also identify a developmental age. For example, the beginning of the growth spurt identifies a specific developmental age, which occurs at widely varying chronological ages. Males and females develop at different rates, and their ages differ through the stages. LTAD, therefore, requires the identification of early, average, and late maturers to design training and competition programs that match athletes’ trainability and readiness.

The number of stages changes slightly between early specialization and late specialization sports, and early specialization sports have unique requirements that affect the definition of their LTAD stages. The basic seven-stage LTAD pathway is covered in this part of the book.

  1. Active Start. Until age 6, it is all about play and mastering basic movement skills! Children should be able to have fun with physical activity through both structured and unstructured free play that incorporates a variety of body movements. An early active start enhances the development of brain function, coordination, social skills, gross motor skills, emotions, and imagination. It also helps children build confidence, develop posture and balance, build strong bones and muscles, achieve a healthy weight, reduce stress, sleep well, move skillfully, and enjoy being
  2. FUNdamentals. From ages 6 to 9 in boys and 6 to 8 in girls, children should participate in a variety of well-structured activities that develop fundamental movement skills and overall motor skills including agility, balance, and coordination. However, activities and programs must maintain a focus on fun, and formal competition should be only minimally introduced.
  3. Learn to Train. From ages 8 to 11 in girls and 9 to 12 in boys, or until the onset of the growth spurt, children are ready to begin developing foundational sport skills. The emphasis should be on acquiring a wide range of skills necessary for a number of sporting activities. Although it is often tempting to overdevelop “talent” at this age through excessive single-sport training and competition (as well as early positioning in team sports), this can have a negative effect on later stages of development if the child pursues a late specialization sport. This early specialization promotes one-sided physical, technical, and tactical development and increases the likelihood of injury and burnout.
  4. Train to Train. The ages that define this stage for boys and girls are based on the onset and duration of the growth spurt, which is generally from ages 11 to 15 for girls and 12 to 16 for boys. This is the stage at which people are physiologically responsive to stimuli and training; in other words, the time to start “building the engine” and exploiting the sensitive periods of accelerated adaptation to training (see chapter 6). Children should establish an aerobic base, develop speed and strength toward the end of the stage, and further consolidate their basic sport-specific skills and tactics. These youths may play and do their best to win, but they still need to spend more time on skill training and physical development and less on trying to win (process vs. outcome). Concentrating on the process as opposed to the result of a competition leads to better development. This approach is critical to developing top performers and maintaining activity in the long term, so parents should check with their national organizations to ensure that their children’s programs have the correct training-to-competition ratio.
  5. Train to Compete. This stage is about optimizing the engine and teaching participants how to compete. They can either choose to specialize in one sport and pursue a competitive stream, or continue participating at a recreational level and thereby enter the Active for Life stage. In the competitive stream, high-volume and high-intensity training begins to occur year-round.
  6. Train to Win. Elite athletes with identified talent enter this stage to pursue the most intense training suitable for international winning performances. Athletes with disabilities and able-bodied athletes alike require world-class training methods, equipment, and facilities that meet their personal demands and the demands of the sport.
  7. Active for Life. Young athletes can enter this stage at essentially any age following the acquisition of physical literacy. If children have been correctly introduced to activity and sport throughout the Active Start, FUNdamentals, and Learn to Train stages, they will have the necessary motor skills and confidence to remain active for life in virtually any sport they choose. For high-performance athletes, this stage represents the transition from a competitive career to lifelong physical activity. They may decide to continue playing sport, thus being competitive for life, or they may become involved in the sport as game officials or coaches. They might also try new sports and activities (e.g., a hockey player taking up golf or a tennis player starting to cycle), thus being fit for life.

Early and Late Bloomers in Youth Sports: Lessons for Parents

Some children are early bloomers who enjoy success in sports because they develop faster, not because they have more raw athletic talent.  Some children – even if they appear to only be average athletes or lag behind his peers – may be late bloomers whose athletic talent will only become apparent later when they are teenagers; they may ultimately be more gifted athletes.

The unfortunate fact is that, in a society and youth sports culture that places such a heavy emphasis on winning, an early bloomer enjoys advantages that may continue long after peers have caught up and, in many cases, passed him in terms of skill proficiency.  As  a result, a late bloomer will be put at a significant disadvantage in getting the attention of coaches and the playing time he needs to develop his skills, and may get so frustrated that quitting the sport becomes the only viable option.[3]

Destined for stardom?

It was a glorious autumn Saturday morning in New England: bright sunshine, temperature in the mid-50’s, breezy, the fall foliage at its brilliant peak.  Like millions of mothers across America, I was standing with a group of parents at a local elementary school, coffee mugs in hand, watching our sons and daughters play a co-ed, short-sided (7 on 7) recreational soccer game.Three boys holding basketball, soccer ball and football

While I kept my eye on my three sons whenever they were in the game, I couldn’t help but notice one of their teammates, a boy named Jake, who was around their age.  It was the first time I had seen him play.  It was obvious by the way he ran up and down the field, the skill with which he dribbled the ball, and the strength and accuracy of his shots on goal that, at least at age nine, his soccer skills were more advanced than those of my sons and the other players.

After Jake scored what must have been his fourth or fifth goal of the day, I turned to my husband and said, “I have no way of knowing, of course, but I am willing to bet right now that Jake  is going to be captain of the high school varsity.”  He said, “Well, a lot can happen between now and then, and it is impossible to predict whether he will still be this good when he is seventeen or eighteen, but if he continues to play like this, I wouldn’t want to bet against you.”

From that point forward, I made a point of following Jake’s athletic career.  He continued to shine on the soccer field.  His select club team won the state championship three years in a row; he was a four-time first-team conference all-star and Offensive Player of the Year in his junior and senior years, and team MVP during his senior season.  As captain of his high school varsity, he was a four-year starter and a first-team All-State selection. After an outstanding high school career,  Jake played college soccer, ending his college career with a total of four goals and one assist after appearing in a total of forty-five games, all as a sub, for a major university on the West Coast, where he earned conference honorable mention All-Academic honors.

Guessing game

How could I predict that Jake would become a successful high school athlete and play at the collegiate level? I coultn’t, of course. I didn’t have a crystal ball, or some kind of special ability to spot talent.  It was just a lucky guess. As it turned out, the success Jake had as a nine-year old was because he actually was blessed with natural athletic talent.  But research suggests that only one in four children who are star athletes in elementary school will still be stars when they reach high school. Predicting whether a preteen athlete will be a good enough high school athlete to land a college scholarship or even influence the admissions process is thus almost impossible.

As a 2004 article in the Journal of Physical Education, Recreation & Dance[1] observes, because athletic success involves multiple factors, including genetics, mental attitude, access to training, and money, any attempt to predict future achievement based on how skilled your daughter is at age nine, ten or eleven “is likely to be futile.” Each child follows her own unique developmental timetable. While chronological age provides a rough index of developmental level, differences among children of the same age can be and often are great. In other words, as one expert observes, while “development is age related, it is not age dependent.”

Advantages for Early Bloomers

Here are some of the advantages an early bloomer tends to receive:

  • more positive reinforcement and encouragement from adults;
  • earlier and more extensive socialization into sports;
  • access to better coaching, facilities, and competitive experiences (i.e., places on “select teams”)[1,3] and
  • the benefit of a “residual bias” from being viewed as a talented athlete at an early age.

A 2004 article in the Journal of Sports Behavior[2] observes, “Early selection for elite sport participants [thus] can become a self-fulfilling prophecy for athletes and coaches. Players begin to think of themselves as talented and are thus likely to invest more time and effort into their sport with predictable results. As the identity of previously selected players becomes known to coaches and administrators, they watch those players more closely lest they miss an elite performer.”

A 2013 Aspen Institute research paper puts it this way[3] (albeit in the context of early sports specialization as opposed to the early versus late bloomer dichotomy): “Early critical incidents such as making a specific team could also lead to an increased self-esteem and intrinsic motivation as the athlete continues in the sport. Early sport samplers who may not achieve the same level of single-sport performance early in their career may not stand out and be selected for special opportunities, and thus subsequently lose interest or self-select out of continued competition. Thus, a young athlete may be deterred from further committment in sport as a result of a lost opportunity.”

Downsides to being early bloomer

Although numerous advantages are conferred on an early bloomer, if your child experiences early success in sports, such success also has some downsides.

An early bloomer:

  • is often able to exploit his or her physical ability without having to work as hard at developing skills as less precocious players in order to stay competitive. When the others catch up physically, they may end up being better players because they have been forced to develop their skills while they grew into their bodies.
  • often has to try to live up to heightened expectations; this may lead him to practice and play more (e.g. multiple teams durning the same season, for instance) than his young body can handle in order to live up to his reputation. Playing under this kind of pressure often leads to burnout and all that extra wear and tear on his body can lead to overuse injuries.[3]
  • may define himself by whether he wins or loses; if he or she is unable to maintain the success he had early in his athletic career, if that self-image is shattered, the results can be disastrous and may lead her to quit sports altogether.
  • may tempt her parents to push her to specialize too early and/or train too hard. Excessive training too often leads to burnout and/or overuse injuries, some of which don’t show up until high school or college, but can be traced to excessive training when the player was nine, ten or eleven. Parents need to avoid being lulled into valuing short-term success more than their child’s long-term future. If they don’t, they may be placing their child’s physical safety and emotional health at risk.

Parenting Late BloomersEmphasize Skill Development

If your child is an average athlete or lags behind his peers, he may be a late bloomer. Late bloomers receive markedly less social support and reinforcement from parents, coaches, and peers. Worse, the adults charged with the responsibility of evaluating “talent” – most of whom don’t understand developmental variability in children – may unfairly nip her athletic career in the bud by concluding that he or she lacks the potential to play sports at the highest competitive levels. Denied a place on a select, middle school, or high school sub varsity team, the late bloomer is more likely to drop out of sports rather than keep playing until he blossoms (that is, achieves his full athletic potential).

Here are six important lessons for parents of potential late bloomers:

  1. Take a balanced approach. Do not to get too down if your child is not immediately a superstar or too high if he is. The important thing is that he continues to play, to develop and learn new skills.
  2. Emphasize the process and the journey, not the results achieved; therefore,
  3. Avoid praising the outcome and instead praise effort;
  4. Help your child see herself as a whole person, not just as an athlete;
  5. Be realistic about possible reasons for early athletic success. Make sure your child understands that early success is not a guarantee of future success (and vice versa).
  6. Select a sports program that understands child development. Pick a program that recognizes that variability in the way children’s athletic talent develops by offering all children a chance to play as long as they want to.

Science Shows That Dominating Fourth-Grade Sports Doesn’t Mean A Future Pro Career

In the United States — well, in most countries, really — the sports system is dedicated to finding talented athletes at the earliest ages possible, and focusing on them as the pool of future professional standouts. That mindset is ingrained in anyone who touches the youth sports system. If you’re a parent watching your 10-year-old blow pitches by the opposition, you start entertaining the idea of a major league career. If you’re a parent watching your 10-year-old whiff against that kid, you don’t.

However, a study out of Indiana University says the evidence isn’t there that athletes who excel early in life also do so later, and the reason is likely obvious to anyone who’s seen a hulking third-grader suddenly look human if everyone else caught up to him in size by high school. From a school press release on the research, which was presented May 31 during the American College of Sports Medicine’s annual meeting in Indianapolis:

An Indiana University study that compared the performance of elite track and field athletes younger than 20 and those 20 and older found that only a minority of the star junior athletes saw similar success as senior athletes.

The researchers think physical maturation is behind the disparity, with athletes who mature early reaping the benefits early, seeing their best times, jumps and throws at a younger age than Olympians, many of whom mature later.

“You see it in a lot of sports,” said Robert Chapman, assistant professor in the IU School of Public Health-Bloomington and a former cross country coach at IU [and co-author of the study]. “Elite performers in senior sports tend to be the ones who mature later. But it’s hard to measure, particularly in men, the rate at which they mature. I had a very successful runner grow 4 inches in college while he ran for me.”

The study looked at 65 male and 64 female athletes who were finalists in the 2000 Junior Olympics in track and field, and a comparable number of participants in the 2000 Olympics. Chapman and lead researcher Joshua Foss, an Indiana graduate student in exercise physiology, tracked the younger athletes 12 years past their Junior Olympics appearance, and tracked the older athletes 12 years before and after their Olympics participation. Among the study’s findings was that only 23.6 percent of the junior athletes went on to medal in the Olympics, and a mere 29.9% of the Olympians studied won junior championship medals.

Those numbers aren’t small, but they also indicate that performance as a youth won’t be matched automatically when that person is an adult. The reason, as Chapman referenced in the quote I cited above, is differing rates of physical maturation.

The researchers think physical maturation is behind the disparity, with athletes who mature early reaping the benefits early, seeing their best times, jumps and throws at a younger age than Olympians, many of whom mature later….

Variability in maturation rates and potential differences in performance as athletes age can pose a challenge for recruiting coaches. Coaches anecdotally have known this was an issue, Chapman said, but the IU study bolsters it with data. He said the findings also are relevant in light of how sports organizations and national sport governing bodies budget their limited funds. Focusing their spending on junior athletes will not necessarily result in Olympic champions as the juniors age.

U.S. Track & Field and Cross Country Coaches of the Year

2018 USTFCCCA High School T&F Coaches of the Year (State-By-State Winners)

NEW ORLEANS – The U.S. Track & Field and Cross Country Coaches Association (USTFCCCA) announced the state-by-state winners of its fifth annual High School Coach of the Year award for track & field on Monday.

One boys coach and one girls coach from each of the 50 states and the District of Columbia – as seen in the lists below – were honored for their successes during the spring of 2018, as selected by a committee of experts from around the nation.

QUICK LINKSBoys Coaches | Girls Coaches

State-by-state winners were selected based on their teams’ performances throughout the 2018 outdoor track & field season. Among the factors taken into consideration were team score and placement at the state championships, margin of victory, performance against rankings if available, individual championships, and how their teams’ performances stacked up to previous years (e.g. first title in school history, consecutive titles, etc.).

Each honoree will receive a trophy from the USTFCCCA recognizing his or her achievements.

The winners from each state are in consideration for the association’s National High School Track & Field Coach of the Year award. One boys coach and one girls coach from among all the states will be selected by a panel of experts and those winners will be announced later this month.

The full lists can be seen below.


State Name School
Alabama Steve Reaves Winfield High School
Alaska Jason Hofacker Anchorage Christian Schools
Arizona Brian Whitacre Casteel High School
Arkansas Michael Stout Vilonia High School
California Aaron Ballou Murrieta Mesa High School
Colorado Josh Walton Bayfield High School
Connecticut Robert Murray Danbury High School
Delaware Steven Lantz Alexis I. duPont High School
District of Columbia Tia Clemmons Woodrow Wilson High School
Florida John W. Battle III Hallandale Magnet High High School
Georgia Matt Henson Parkview High School
Hawaii Todd Iacovelli Punahou School
Idaho Brad Abbott Rocky Mountain High School
Illinois Mike Kennedy Neuqua Valley High School
Indiana Zach Toothman Avon High School
Iowa Davis Eidahl Pekin Community High School
Kansas Cory Swords Bishop Carroll Catholic High School
Kentucky Scott Holzknecht Trinity High School
Louisiana Claney Duplechin Episcopal High School
Maine Ted Hutch York High School
Maryland Robert Youngblood Northwest High School
Massachusetts Dave Casey Lowell High School
Michigan Dave Emeott East Kentwood High School
Minnesota Aaron Berndt Wayzata High School
Mississippi Joey  Hawkins Presbyterian Christian School
Missouri Andrew Youngworth Carthage High School
Montana Arron Deck Glacier High School
Nebraska Karen Schlueter Beatrice High School
Nevada Justin Locke White Pine High School
New Hampshire Mike Lyford Portsmouth High School
New Jersey Rashone Johnson Princeton High School
New Mexico Kenny Henry V. Sue Cleveland High School
New York Jason Strom Northport High School
North Carolina Firman Walden Green Hope High School
North Dakota Craig Kovash Trinity High School
Ohio Tom Loy East Canton High School
Oklahoma Tex Rollins Carl Albert High School
Oregon Julie Fitzgerald Bodfish La Grande High School
Pennsylvania Terry & Allyson McKechnie Schuylkill Valley High School
Rhode Island Jim Doyle Bishop Hendricken High School
South Carolina Kevin Shiver Wando High School
South Dakota Rory Hermsen Freeman Jr./Sr. High School
Tennessee Andrew Reynolds, Sr. Pearl-Cohn Entertainment Magnet High School
Texas Juris Green The Woodlands High School
Utah Jeff Wales Springville High School
Vermont Katie White Essex High School
Virginia Adam Canning L. C. Bird High School
Washington Kevin Eager Gig Harbor High School
West Virginia Eric Cooper Hurricane High School
Wisconsin Brad Hoerth Kimberly High School
Wyoming Joe Koritnik Lovell High School



State Name School
Alabama Tom Esslinger Homewood High School
Alaska Jeremy Strong Sitka High School
Arizona Michael Johnson Snowflake High School
Arkansas Heather Wade Pea Ridge High School
California Chris Calvin Junipero Serra High School
Colorado Chris Faust Cherokee Trail High School
Connecticut Anne Burrows Bloomfield High School
Delaware Marnie Giunta Padua Academy
District of Columbia Desmond Dunham St. John’s College High School
Florida Alex Armenteros St. Thomas Aquinas High School
Georgia Brian Robinson Robert S. Alexander High School
Georgia Steve Duncan Robert S. Alexander High School
Hawaii Duncan Macdonald Punahou School
Idaho Tracy Harris Mountain View High School
Illinois Patrick Garst Dunlap High School
Indiana Julie Alano Hamilton Southeastern High School
Iowa Jesse Hunt Waukee High School
Kansas Kim Lohse Hanover High School
Kentucky Brent Wagner Boyle County High School
Louisiana Chris Carrier Zachary High School
Maine Steve Virgilio Cheverus High School
Maryland Darrell Diamond Harford Technical High School
Massachusetts Tim Cimeno Sharon High School
Michigan Jill Feldpausch Fowler High School
Minnesota John Steffen Minnetonka High School
Mississippi JJ Downs Center Hill High School
Missouri Jim Lohr Mary Institute and St. Louis Country Day School
Montana Craig Mettler Sentinel High School
Nebraska Rick Nordhues Syracuse-Dunbar-Avoca High School
Nevada Roy Sessions Centennial High School
New Hampshire Stan Lyford Portsmouth High School
New Jersey Mike McCabe Union Catholic Regional High School
New Mexico Jim Ciccarello La Cueva High School
New York Mike DeMay Rush–Henrietta Senior High School
North Carolina Jason Smoots Hillside High School
North Dakota Rory Beil Davies High School
Ohio Roger Whittaker Lincoln High School
Oklahoma Christa Geary Del City High School
Oregon Nick Davies Jesuit High School
Pennsylvania Lincoln Townsend Jr. Ss. John Neumann and Maria Goretti High School
Rhode Island David Federico Westerly High School
South Carolina Kevin Shiver Wando High School
South Dakota Troy Sturgeon Brandon Valley High School
Tennessee Wayne Hines East Nashville Magnet High School
Texas Lauren Jones Lake Ridge High School
Utah Troy Norris Panguitch High School
Vermont Mark McKenna Rice Memorial High School
Virginia Claude Toukene Western Branch High School
Washington Jeff Brady Tahoma High School
West Virginia Craig Kellar Doddridge County High School
Wisconsin Chris Ramsey Waukesha West High School
Wyoming Bill Lehr Big Piney High School

Coach D Receives National Recognition

Earlier this winter, the National Federation of State High School Associations recently named Kids Elite founder, Desmond Dunham, as the DC Coach of the Year for Boys Outdoor Track & Field for the 2016-2017 school year. Coach Dunham was selected as the 2016-2017 Mideast Sectional Coach of the Year for Girls’ Outdoor Track & Field, an award that recognizes coaches from DC, Kentucky, Maryland, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Virginia, and West Virginia. The NFHS Coaches’ Association selects awardees who are leading their sport, shaping their athletes, and contributing in a positive way to their communities. Congratulations to Coach D!

Sport specialization increases injury risk for high school athletes, study finds | Sport specialization increases injury risk

January 25 at 3:13 PM

High school athletes who specialize in a single sport are 70 percent more likely to suffer an injury during their playing season than those who play multiple sports, according to a study released late last month commissioned by the National Federation of High School Associations.

Researchers from the University of Wisconsin measured the rate of specialization — meaning an athlete significantly sacrificed time with friends or family or participation in other sports — among 1,544 athletes in Wisconsin and tracked lower-extremity injuries. The study found athletes who specialized suffered those injuries “at significantly higher rates” than those who do not.

“We collected this much data and saw there is something here,” said Tim McGuine, the study’s author and a sports medicine researcher at the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health. “It’s pretty striking.”

More than 40 percent of female athletes and 28 percent of male athletes surveyed reported specializing. Soccer was the most-specialized sport. Almost half of the athletes of both genders who reported playing soccer said that was their primary sport.

Muscle or ligament sprains were the most commonly reported injuries, mostly to the ankle or knee, which accounted for 59.4 percent of injuries reported.

Those injuries are a result of overtraining and exposure, McGuine said.

Specialized athletes who play or train for their sport year-round put more stress on a concentrated group of muscles, ligaments and bones related to their sport. A baseball pitcher, for example, places more stress on his elbow and shoulder than abdomen. He is more likely to suffer injuries to his arm than a nonspecialized pitcher because of the stress of training, McGuine said.

He is also more susceptible to injury because he is exposed to that sport more often. In other words, the more you pitch, the more opportunity for things to go wrong, even if they’re not stress-related.

“The more you play at any given activity, the more likely you are to get hurt, just out of exposure,” said William Roberts, a practicing physician and professor of family medicine at the University of Minnesota. “If you play club and high school sports, you play 10 to 12 months out [of] the year; that might be an exposure issue. For kids who play club and high school at the same time, it might be a fatigue issue.”

But the pressure to achieve in a single sport drives some athletes to continue to specialize and overtrain, said Jennifer Rheeling, an athletic trainer with D.C. Public Schools.

She tries to get football players to go out for the basketball team or run track in the spring. She tells sprinters to be wide receivers and high jumpers to play volleyball.

“I think they’re just so concerned that if they take a day off, somebody is going to get ahead of them,” she said. “These kids, they’re so good at football and basketball, they don’t want to be not as good at another sport.”

Roberts and McGuine recommend playing multiple organized sports but one at a time. Don’t train for track and football in the same season, but go ahead and work out for football and play pickup basketball later.

That kind of overtraining led McKinley Tech senior sprinter Denzell Brown into a years’ worth of stress injuries from which he is just now recovering. During the summer between track and football season, he used to wake up at 5 a.m. to do a full sprinter’s workout, go to work, hit the weight room and then do another sprinting or football workout at night.

After all that training, he wondered why he wasn’t seeing the improvement he wanted in either sport. At the D.C. Interscholastic Athletic Association track and field championships his junior season, a calf strain from those workouts, he said, caused him to hobble through the finish line of the 4×400 meter relay.

“My body was shutting down,” he said after the race.

“I realized I was putting too much stress on my body that I thought was hard work,” Brown says now.

He doesn’t regret specializing, he said — he is on the verge of a Division I track scholarship — but he did more cross-training or took more time off to rest over the past seven months.

McGuine has another suggestion.

“If you want to play basketball over the summer, do it, but don’t play 60 games,” he said. “Pick your spots. Be a swimmer, too.”

Five Ways Parents Can Build Mental Toughness | Parents Build Mental Toughness Athletes

Like it or not, sports come with pressure. There will come a time when your young athlete gets the ball with the clock winding down or steps up with the bases loaded. When that happens, mental toughness often determines whether or not they’ll succeed.

Even though you can’t be on the field or the court with your young athlete during these situations, there’s plenty you can do to help beforehand. Here are five methods to get you started.

1. Call Your Young Athlete a Competitor
Soccer Ball Parents“There goes our little winner” or “Here comes Johnny, our star goalie.” How do you introduce and describe your kid?

Be careful about using descriptors that emphasize only part of their identity. They are not always winners, and they certainly don’t always lose. A parent of an athlete I know once introduced her as “perfect little Sara.” That’s tough to live up to.

Your kids are only athletes some of the time. However, they can still compete in everything they do. They can compete in grades, paying attention and playing sports. Emphasize that competing means competing against yourself, not anyone else.

2. Love Your Partner
It’s easier for me to be a good parent than a good partner. I can love on my kids, but I also need to love with the help of my wife. With my wife, I have to listen, reflect, emphasize, budget, discipline, strategize and co-parent. It takes more work.

The most important relationships take place within the four walls of our home. How we interact, show affection and disagree with our spouse or partner models how our kids will see the outside world. And don’t forget: kids see everything. It matters how you act. Remember, you get to define what your children think is “normal” behavior. If they see aggression and resentment towards one another, they will approach others in the same way.

3. Think Ownership, NOT Buy-In
There’s a big difference between ownership and buy-in. Buy-in means that playing sports is someone else’s idea—usually yours. Ownership is more powerful because the desire to play comes from your kids. Doesn’t the best parenting take place when your kids think that they came up with the idea, anyway?

If competitors take ownership of their game, they will assume ownership within the team. Before each season, define your role and ask you kids what feedback they want from you. Allow them to pack their own bags, schedule their additional practices and use their free time. After the initial conversation, don’t intervene at anytime unless their safety or health is at risk.

4. Avoid Texting or Emailing
Sadly, we over-rely on texting to communicate. It is fine for simple notes and reminders, but never for complex issues, especially when feelings are involved. It’s not what you say, it’s what they hear.Basketball Team

Most coach-athlete and parent-athlete problems result from lack of communication. Too often, we text important messages to our kids instead of setting a up a time to talk.

Kids develop mental toughness by overcoming adversity. They need to be able to communicate effectively with their coaches and fellow players. However, if we don’t allow them to use their own voices, they won’t be able to speak up when needed.

5. Don’t Talk About Other Players, Coaches or Teams
Sports are about winning, but they’re also about losing and getting better. No one likes losing, but it isn’t fatal. We help build our kids’ mental toughness by allowing them to experience setbacks and deal with adversity.

Too often, though, we try to make it better. If we try to remove their ownership by blaming anyone else, we give an out, an excuse. If there’s an out, they will take it and learn to use it. Bad calls, bad plays and poor execution happen, but what lessons are we teaching when we say, “It wasn’t your fault, it was something else’s”? By that logic, when our kids play well and win, it must also be due to something else. We can’t have it both ways.

Dr. Rob Bell is a Sport Psychology Coach. His company DRB & associates is based in Indianapolis. Some clients have included: PGA Tour Champions, USTA National Champion, University of Notre Dame, Marriott, and Walgreens.

He is also the co-author of the new book Don’t Should on Your Kids: Build Their Mental Toughness.

by Rob Bell | Feb 11, 2016 | Category: How To, General Sports, Sports Parents

What Single-Sport Specialization Really Means and Why You Should Care | sport specialization risks harm

There’s lots of talk lately about the problems that can result from kids specializing in one sport or one physical activity too early. These can include burnout, overuse injuries, mental and emotional fatigue, dropout from activity, and more. And there’s really no question—we know that specializing too early is a bad idea.

Soccer PlayersBut what does “specializing” actually mean?

A few parents have posed this question to Active for Life, so it’s worth clarifying some of the nuances around this tricky topic.

In a nutshell, specialization means doing one activity to the total exclusion of all other activities. And in the context that most people use the word around kids’ sports, it’s generally assumed that we mean from a very young age—perhaps as young as 5, 6, or 7 years old. This is not necessarily the same as doing a lot of one activity throughout the calendar year.

What’s the difference?
In Canadian youth sports, we most commonly hear concerns about premature specialization in sports such as hockey and soccer. If there is any suggestion that a kid has any degree of talent, the parents fork out the extra bucks and put their child in spring hockey and summer hockey, or extra soccer training during the off-season.

Now the child is playing one sport for 10-12 months. They are playing a lot of that sport.

But they are not necessarily specializing in that sport.

If they are doing other sports and activities at the same time, then they might actually be getting a good balance of activities, and they are not necessarily specializing. The danger now simply becomes the risk of injury and burnout due to overtraining; the body, mind, and emotions simply become exhausted with no opportunity to rest and recharge.

So what should a parent do?
Here’s the nub of it–and here I am talking about kids prior to high school age.

If your child truly wants to play spring hockey, or attend the soccer or dance academy for extra training, that can be a good thing. But it needs to be driven by your child—not you. And even when it is driven by your pre-teen child, you should step back and ask a couple of questions.

Does my child want to do this because she really wants more? Or does she feel coerced by pressure from coaches or peers?
If my child does this, will he still have time and energy for other physical activities?
If my child does this, what are the chances that she will start to hate this activity?
If my child does this, is he likely to develop overuse injuries to knees, elbows, muscles, ligaments, and the rest?
How might my child be better served by taking a break from this activity to focus on something else?
As always, superstar professional basketball player Steve Nash is one of the best examples of a kid who didn’t specialize too early. In fact, he didn’t ever start playing basketball until age 12. He played tons of basketball once he went to high school, probably 10-12 months per year if you count all of the hours that he spent playing ratball on weekends and after school with friends.

Was he specializing in basketball? In one sense, yes. Yet he was still playing a couple of other sports on the side. In fact, he didn’t really start specializing in basketball until at least age 14, and it was all driven by him.

Sport Sampling and Physical Literacy
Prior to high school, Steve Nash was a poster child for physical literacy and “sport sampling” instead of specialization. His parents made sure that he played a wide variety of sports and activities as a child, and as consequence, he developed broad athleticism and a fundamental love of being active. He became engaged in sport and activity. He kept playing because he had grown to love it.Baseball P

Parents often imagine that their child can become a superstar if they specialize early. But it’s a crapshoot at best. Read this book review on the role of genetics in sports to learn why.

As a growing body of research shows, apart from activities such as gymnastics and perhaps figure skating, it’s the multi-sport athletes who generally come out on top.

And if someone tries to tell you that your 7-year-old is a natural born and needs more specialized coaching and training, look at them with suspicion. Most often they’re coaches with private academies who are looking for a paycheck, or they are trying to cherry pick a U12 dream team so they can win the Upper Wabash Falls District Championship and show the trophy to their poker buddies.

Rather than pushing your child to specialize early, concern yourself with making sure that your child engages with sport and activity early. Make sure that they play many different sports and activities before they enter their teens, make sure that much if not most of their play is unstructured, and make sure that they learn to love sport and activity because they are having fun experiences that they “own”.

Then see where it takes them. Because if your child specializes too early in one sport and starts to hate it, or gets injured, you’re not doing them any favors—and you’re not enhancing their chances of turning pro.

Jim Grove is a contributing editor with Active for Life, a nonprofit organization committed to helping parents raise happy, healthy, physically literate kids. For more articles like this one, please visit

by Jim Grove | Feb 9, 2016 | Category: General Sports, Sports Parents, Science Research