How to plan an athlete's summer
All parents of youth athletes (K-12) have to make choices for the summer. What it usually comes down to is the choice of playing some form(s) of summer ball or a conglomerate of other activities. All these choices tend to conflict with each other logistically and financially. From our point of view we see parents caught in a cycle of trying to do it all while sanity and development are left behind. The purpose of this blog is to give you reasons for your choices that are better than being pressured by participation of other parents and athletes around you whom likely don't have a clue as to WHY they are doing it either.
So, as parents and athletes, how do we make these choices?
From our experience of working
with over 12,000 athletes from kindergarten to professional in six different sports we have identified some common patterns for success and failure within the construct of these choices. Let's examine the what, why, and when of the summer paradox. To clarify, summer is just the header, this blog is referring to any athlete playing a second (or third or fourth) season of any singular sport in a calendar year. I also want to clarify that I value club/ select organizations, coaches of select teams, AAU teams, club organizations, and independent skill development as well. We all have our place and provide immense support and direction if used in the right capacity at the right time. Please reserve judgement or conclusions of what you read until finishing the entire blog. In short, yes, you can have it all and keep your sanity.
Let's begin with summer ball because the biggest mistake, in my opinion, is made here. Many are considering playing in their second, third, or fourth season of a given sport. The first question you need to ask yourself is why are you playing more _______.
Below are a couple valid reasons to play another season of your primary sport in the summer.
The athlete was hurt or missed the majority of the season and needs to continue skill development by playing in a competitive environment for a more extended period of time. This makes complete sense physiologically and psychologically. This is assuming they are back to their normal human performance metrics as before the injury.
The athlete projects as a different position long term from what he/she played during their primary season. This gives them an opportunity to compete in their long term position so that finite skills and adaptations to demands of that particular position continue to develop in a linear pattern with their peers.
The above reasons are fairly clear cut and self explanatory, but below things are a little complex. These should be categorized as questionable reasons to play a second season.
The athlete wants to play college, so they need to get in front of college coaches. First of all, if the athlete is younger than a recruit-able age, this is not a valid answer. In the earliest of cases for females it can be the 9th grade summer in some sports, blue chip males are not seriously recruited until between their sophomore and junior year. Your kid may be the best 11 year old player in America but compared to the worst varsity player in the country, they are terrible. Not to mention, the coaches will likely work somewhere else by the time it's relevant to you. If your kid hasn't hit puberty and you think playing year round sport is the key, you're wrong. If you don't agree I would urge you to read this blog titled "You're playing too much baseball". Secondly, if the athlete is not skilled enough, or too weak, or too slow, or too small it is not a good idea for them to display those attributes to any colleges or college coaches. Don't go to a showcase unless you are ready to show off something elite. In addition, injured athletes play on average 4x the showcases or tournaments that non injured athletes play (Andrews 2006). College and professional coaches tend to have a short attention span and once they write a kid off they are rarely open to changing their mind no matter how impressive that kid ends up performing later in the process. You are best to get in front of them when you are truly ready to impress, not when you want to be looked at. So, if your athlete has a human performance or skill deficit, it's not the time to parade them around the country to get looked at.
We just love it. Our family just enjoys traveling and playing, etc. Your kids are not remote control toys or a form of entertainment. They are in a crucial period of development mentally and physically. Your family loves traveling summer ball can be a reckless assumption and from our experience the hard charging summer travel sports family doesn't even make it through varsity most of the time. By age 13, 70 percent of kids drop out of youth sports. The top three reasons: adults, coaches and parents. Even worse, we have many athletes that only play their junior and senior year because they feel guilty for the past time investment. This can negatively effect their overall approach to exercise and sport in general. I would encourage every parent to read this short blog detailing what your child's' body goes through from ages 5-19: "How to train your 5 year old" .
The athlete needs to get better at ________. Playing a sport multiple seasons a year is not a sure fire way to get better at it. In fact, look at the statistics from any professional draft or championship team. It is shocking how well rounded the vast majority of the athletes were during developmental years. 96% of the athletes in the Super Bowl this year didn't specialize in a sport until college. To be more specific they played at least 2 sports without repeating seasons and took time every year to play nothing which gave them adequate time to develop performance factors and improve skill. Although playing multiple-sports beats playing a singular sport for multiple seasons, it is still an incomplete process for development. There are more important concepts such as injury reduction (no such thing as prevention), movement mapping, and tissue development. These concepts raise the self limiting roof of skill acquisition and open the possibility of unperceived levels of skills in virtually any sport. The greatest skill imaginable is the skill of learning skills - this is what proper training should yield athletes and why it is paramount to invest time to get this value!
This is a perfect lead into choosing to focus on human performance as a priority in the summer (or any season). Let's start with the main concern for most parents- INJURY. Here are some stats provided by over 1,100 medical partners who have joined the STOP program team to help prevent youth sports injuries and keep kids in the game. This includes: 48 Professional Health Organizations, 108 Medical Institutions, 771 Sports Medicine Practices, 44 Child Safety Organizations, and 133 Sports Organizations.
Overuse injuries are responsible for nearly half of all sports injuries to middle and high school students (Andrew 2011)
Children ages 5 to 14 account for nearly 40 percent of all sports-related injuries treated in hospitals. On average the rate and severity of injury increases with a child's age
Twenty percent of children ages 8 to 12 and 45 percent of those ages 13 to 14 will have pain during a second sport season
According to the CDC, more than half of all sports injuries in children are preventable.
Since the boom in select sports (year 2000), there has been a fivefold increase in the number of serious injuries among youth athletes
Seasonal focus on training won't guarantee the elimination of injuries but an appropriate training system will give their body the best chance at resisting self inflicted injuries while building a dynamic platform to grow from. Think of your athlete’s ability as a map that is under development. To build or revive a country the first thing that must be done is a road system allowing people to use the entire landscape. Your brain dictates athletic development much the same way. You need diversity of movements, challenges, and problems to solve in order to have a point of reference to attain high levels of skill. Athletes can only use the "roads" they know to go to the "desired destination". If you play one sport the vast majority of the time, you are only driving that one road and only learning a singular way of doing things. Even worse is playing the same position in the same sport, that is truly self limiting. In theory, if you only build one road that leads to Kansas and your athlete needs to make a play in California your in trouble. Playing multiple sports builds new roads (neuropathways) in your athleticism map (brain). Even more so, training systems can build the infrastructure further with connecting roads, alternate routes, and the back roads. These back roads or connecting routes are what coaches seem to think can't be taught- the intangibles. It's human development, nothing intangible about it. What separates athletes in a game setting is the diversity of skills they can pull from to solve a problem or get an advantage. Athletes need a broad tool set of options to solve problems specifically with the body that God gave them. When you isolate sport and/or eliminate time to focus on how to move the body, you dwarf athleticism. You can't solve this problem by just adding in sports while also playing another year round. The brain/body only have a finite amount of energy to devote to development. The body makes its' greatest leaps in athletic formation from the ages of 5-13. You don't want to waste that in a competition no one will remember when they will have the results of their athletic makeup forever.
Teaching movement appropriate to age is an important piece for anyone, especially athletes of all ages. Even professionals in any sport take time every year to focus on fixing and improving their body away from the sport itself. Improving basic human performance metrics like speed, strength, balance, coordination are a part of it but a dynamic training system should offer much more than that. Every human body has deficits and things that will hold it back if not addressed. A good training system exposes and provides support in improving these issues, this is the purest and most effective performance enhancement.
Improving skills in sport is usually every athlete's favorite thing to do, aside from playing the sport itself. So it's no surprise that these types of coaches are always in great demand; pitching coaches, QB coaches, shooting coaches, tennis coaches, etc. A great skill coach (whether a coach at a school or private sector) can be an absolute game changer! These coaches do a great job taking what you can currently do and putting it in a position to succeed. Unfortunately parents/athletes have a tendency to only utilize a skill coach and forsake everything else like it's a competition. The problem is athletes and parents not understanding what is missing here. Skill coaches are teaching you how to drive your sports car in a specific race. Human performance coaches take your beat up car in the shop and help make it into a high performance sports car. They don't build cars and we don't know the intricacies of racing but we know how to build the car, and its subsystems. If you don't have good brakes you can't stop well even if a coach tells you to. A skill coach can tell you to get in a position or act in movement until they are blue in the face, but if your body hasn't been trained to go there or released from certain limitations, it won't. You will need a training team to do that. We are fortunate to work with many skill coaches, one of them being famous WR coach David Robinson. We always laugh because all his guys want to run routes with him everyday but he needs them to come to us so they can actually run the routes the way he needs them to do it. We need each other for our wide receivers to be the most successful. I certainly need him to coach how to play the position, but he needs us to get their ankles, hips and other systems in place to be able to make cuts and produce acceleration angles needed for success. People tend to treat skill lessons like desserts; it's all they want because it entertains and shows results in the short term. In addition, they will dedicate only to dessert which may seem to be the best part of the meal, but you can't survive off that. Letting kids decide what they need is a bad idea, they are kids.
SUMMER SHENANIGANS, CAMPS
If you don't let kids be kids, they will be kids when they are adults. Going to church camp, art camp, hiking, Disney world; it's all good for them. They need a break psychologically. Where you get into trouble is trying to do all of it. As all of the aforementioned topics, people take this to the extreme and go from one vacation to the next until the summer is up. We have seen this before and kids don't recover well in the next several months or year. Look at it like the TV show the bachelor; you can't possibly have a grip on reality when you have been experiencing life changing moments/places for 9 weeks. The TV show knows this and thrives off the disorder and behavior it causes in "grown" adults. It's worse for developing kids. Pick a couple vacations or camps, don't stress about what you miss and enjoy it. After that, back to routine. It's not about what you can afford. If you have the money to go to an island for the summer, knock yourself out, just keep structure around the kids for their sake.
HAVE IT ALL
Hopefully your eyes aren't bleeding by now and just maybe you don't feel like there is no way to actually do the right thing. You can have it all for your athletes in the summer. Here's how;
Plan a vacation or two.
Get your kids into a training system that "builds/rebuilds the car" . K-2nd only need 1 day a week of structured activity. Free play and fun they make up is best. For 3rd-5th 2 days a week is max. Middle school and up; If they are really busy 2 days a week can be a value add and make a difference for an athlete even while they are doing other things. If they aren't playing anything or stacking other training they should concentrate 3-5 days in "training" with at least one day developing sport skills or playing and having fun.
Get some skill lessons. Could be a private coach or a coach at your school. There are great coaches out there that can teach a lot. You don't need four lessons a week to make improvements.
PLAY- this could be in the form of a made up pool Olympics at home or a structured sanctioned tournament with a club team or a summer season with an organization. Just go play and use your body to have fun! Try some out of the box type activities. If you need to play a second season then do it without giving up the other things on the list. If you have to give up the other things on this list to play you need to be more creative or reconsider your options.
You don't need to feel pressured to go ALL IN on anything. The scales may be tipped heavily in one direction but never give any of these up completely or you will take a step back in development physically and mentally. You have information to make choices that are best for your athlete. Hopefully this brings perspective to frequently asked questions and scenarios we constantly see struggle with.
Bobby Stroupe RSCC*D
apecgo.com / apecfw.com
S/O to Kye Heck for the clutch feedback and proof read.