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Opening the Playbook

Updated: May 6, 2023

Not every kid is going to handle all of those the same. I grew up in a military family and was used to moving, but I did not even handle every move the same. On top of all the expectations and challenges of kids every day, we throw the stress of sports on them. Even the reasons for these kids joining sports are different. Some choose to because they love the sport. A few end up in sports because there is not much else for them to do. Still others are pushed into it by their parents. Coaches and sports administrators cannot be responsible for these decisions and yet, ultimately must deal with the consequences of all these issues.

In youth sports there are a couple main schools of thought. The first is that kids should pick a specialization early on. If you want to be a soccer star, start young. If you are going to be the faster track star or best wrestler, then you need to start training early. The second is that kid will naturally grow into a specific sport as they get older and more competitive. This second thought believes that participating in multiple different sports will give you a better foundation later. Both have their merits, yet they both are intrinsically focused on the physical performance of the athlete.

However, each of these ignore the emotional and mental developments that children go through growing up. In our interview, Mr. Argueta stated that he wanted to introduce the kids into sports psychology later after they have fallen in love with sports and developed some of the skills. The reasoning is to avoid putting unnecessary stress on youth athletes. I absolutely agree with him that the athletes do not need to be introduced to it too early. I believe that their introduction to these should take place across many years at age-appropriate levels. This will likely be different for each kid as they grow and mature at different rates. It is because of this that it is even more crucial for youth coaches and sports administrators to understand the importance of sports psychology and how to introduce and teach it to young athletes.

Youth coaches and those who run youth sports programs (whether recreational, competitive, or school teams) need to learn how to help young athletes learn these principles in a way that connects to the athletes and does not put needless pressure on them. Telling a kid that they just need to grow up and handle it misses an opportunity to teach them HOW to handle the added pressure. Creating an open and communicative environment can help to reduce the stigma about seeking help when they are struggling mentally. Helping younger kids to learn how to fail forward and not be deterred when they mess up will make them more resilient as they get older. These are not skills or knowledge that you need to drill into them. But helping them talk through what is bothering them and guiding them to solutions are ways that coaches can use sports psychology principles in help athletes become stronger mentally without directly introducing athletes to these principles.

Therefore, it is crucial that coaches and sports administrators attempt to have a playbook where they can introduce different sports psychology techniques to help their athletes grow. This could be incorporated into your coaching philosophy or motto. For the coaches of older and more competitive youth athletes, it might look creating your training program through a holistic lens where some days are focused more on the mental aspect and not as much techniques. For sports administrators, this can simply look like implementing policies within your program/organization that foster a more welcoming environment to student athletes and the added struggles and pressure that they feel. It might also mean finding a way to connect and include parents more. Passing techniques along to parents could add another resource for a child where they are exposed to these things more and therefore making it a more normal part of their life.

In the end, any coach or sports administrator who works with youth athletes need to be prepared to truly take care of their athletes. You are not parents or the end all authority for a child, but the impact that a coach makes for good or bad is often remembered by their athletes for years to come. Do you want to be someone who leaves a disgusting taste in your athlete’s mind? Are you a coach who simply was an “alright” coach? Would you rather be the coach that an athlete remembers as someone who made a difference in their life and helped them become not just a better athlete, but a better person as well?

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