My Kid Isn’t Good, What Do I Do?

As coaches, it’s a privilege to develop athletes to their potential. Some athletes come to us with flashes of eliteness at a young age – a rarity in most cases. Others develop their talent later in their athletic developmental stages, which is often the case. The latter is often the cause of angst among parents of developing athletes.

When we think of the greatest athletes in any sport, we often associate it with the notion that they were born with that elite talent. In some cases, that may seem true. Look at Junior Olympics or McDonald’s All American tourneys where you have groups of young and extremely talented athletes. Genetics impact biological traits that influence physical characteristics such as height, wing span, limb length, amount of fast twitch muscles, but it really doesn’t mean that people are born with a magical element that dictates if an athlete will be great or not. Here are examples of both ends of the athletic spectrum. Bronny James, LeBron James’ 16year old son has been getting scouting attention since he was 10 years young. Laila Ali, daughter of the great Muhammad Ali, had one of the most dominating boxing careers ever. On the other hand, children of some of the greatest of all time like Michael Jordan, Joe Montana, and Diego Maradona didn’t have stellar athletic careers.

Every youth athlete develops at their own rate. It takes 8 – 12 years of training for a talented athlete to reach elite levels. How does a young athlete become a talented athlete in the first place? Training and it starts at an early age and a desire to do it. This doesn’t mean that a child starts specializing when they are 4 or any time before 15 years of age. What we are saying is that a child needs to be exposed to the right type of training at the right time throughout their development and athletic career. This means free and structured play to more formal training for older youth, rest periods throughout the year to avoid burn out and overuse injury, proper strength training, power and agility development. This also means that an athlete has to stay motivated, patient, have the right mindset to develop to their potential over those 12+years. There aren’t any shortcuts.

While the youth athlete is playing sports and continuing to develop, parents may see that their child is miles apart in their skill level compared to their teammates of the same age. It may be hard as parents, but let them not be good and allow them time to develop and catch up. During early athletic development, you may be witnessing the relative age effect, where the birth month gives children a natural advantage over their peers by being mere months older than their teammates. How age groupings are determined for youth leagues helps children born in certain month to have early and more playing time and even playing up. There have also been studies that show that athletes born in the autumn months usually have slightly bigger bone and muscle mass because their mothers got plenty of vitamin D from the sun during a mother’s pregnancy. Not only are they born with stronger muscles and bones, they become active earlier, then get involved in athletics sooner compared to athletes born in the spring or summer. Kids may actually be ‘catching up’ to their peers who have a developmental head start because of their birth month. The only way to catch up and get better is to keep practicing and training and it only a matter of time and consistent training before the athlete catches up.

If a young Alice or Timmy wants to run the 100m but they aren’t really fast compared to their peers, as coaches or even parents, do we allow them to still compete in the 100m? YES! Why? Because they want to do it. Because being last or ‘sucking’ may help them build that mental toughness they need to deal with that type of pressure and the push they need to keep working to be better. Michael Jordan became the GOAT by out-working, out-hustling, and out-practicing his competition – something he was driven to do especially as a high school JV athlete. Steph Curry’s scouting report said his explosiveness and athleticism were below standard. That gave him the push to do the extra work developing his ball handling skills and build up his strength. Can’t argue now that he isn’t one of the best players and 3 point shooters in the league! Even if the child doesn’t seem to be good at a particular sport initially,  getting consistent and appropriate training – in school and outside of school – and getting those reps in helps with the development process, both physically and mentally.

Let the youth athlete suck because eventually, they won’t given their desire and commitment to the kind of training that is required to be better than most. You have some of the greatest athletes in history that were dismissed as ‘not having it’ but proved everyone wrong. Misty Copeland was told she wasn’t good enough to be ballerina growing up but is now considered the most heralded ballerinas in the world. Albert Einstein said, the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over, and expecting different results. This is true for athletes that want to make it to the next level. We like to say it’s a healthy insanity because it is going to take a lot repetition, consistency, work to make small and big improvements no matter who the athlete is.