Today’s post is a bit of a soapbox topic for me on how youth athletics are changing and what we need to do to fix them. Athletes today are pressured into making a choice once they reach high school or even before high school do they go for exposure, development, or just play for fun. Sadly the last choice is dying the quickest as the drive to succeed and compete has killed most of the joy that can be found in today’s sports culture. The athlete that is starting to vanish is the one who opts for developing their skills and focuses their offseason on training like a college athlete to prepare for college athletics. The athletes that are opting for the exposure route are athletes who specialize at an early age, and try to go to as many exposure camps as possible.
What I feel is happening over the past few years is high school sports seasons seem to be becoming less important to athletes, and their club sport seasons seem to take precedence of high school. Athletes and parents are placing more and more stock in club and AAU teams because of their ability to head off to mega tournaments to be around college recruiters every weekend. The only sport where the high school season still matters is football, due to the lack of ability for players to play during the offseason. Don’t get me wrong many athletes still compete and enjoy playing in high school sports teams and there are athletes where they have no other choice but to partake in high school athletics. However as a professional who’s job it is to program athletic development and success I just want us to all take a step back and look at how youth sports have changed since we have all played.
We have all noticed the decline of the three-sport athlete as more and more athletes start to specialize early so they can join the select teams or maybe it is because they go to a larger high school and their only chance to play is to specialize early. These changes in youth athletics have increased the number of injuries in youth athletics. Ten or 20 years ago how many athletes did you know that had ACL surgery or Tommy John? My guess is very few if any. My biggest issue is with the athletes who end a high school season and run straight into club/AAU seasons. These athletes become at an increase risk of injury and have limited ability to train due to the lack of time with practices, and travel for tournaments and camps.
What I want coaches and parents to think about is how can we rethink how we are developing athletes here in the states. If we want our athletes to specialize then great but lets make sure they are getting the fundamental movements they need to develop from a professional coach. I encourage everyone to check out this great resource (Click Here) from Canadian Sport for Life. They do a great job of explaining where athletes should be at in each developmental stage. This is much like how we write our programs here at ProForce where we take training and psychological age of each athlete into consideration before we create a program for them.