As a coach or parent of young athletes, we only have some control over what they do in preparation for their future as athletes, citizens of the adult world and future leaders. There are some areas we don’t have control over for various reasons, but we can plant seeds, nurture them and hope they grow.
Many times I have thought about my past and played the If-I-only-knew-then-what-I-know-now game. I probably would have been so much faster, stronger, leaner and overall, just a better athlete. Well, we can’t change the past but looking at the seeds I needed sown, maybe I can find something my current athletes need to hear.
Age 7 Julia
At this age, I was playing games with friends, riding my bike around the neighborhood, and staying outdoors until I heard my dad’s uber loud whistle to come home. I did play slow pitch softball and all I remember was that it was fun. Practice was fun. Games were fun. Learning and being with my friends was fun. I see kids at this age now who are being pushed to play on multiple teams, have private lessons, and even play sports that don’t interest them. While my job is to certainly improve their performance, I make sure that every single one of my athletes and young kids are having fun when they step foot into our facility. The more fun they have, the more we keep their attention, the better they get.
Keep having fun. You have many years to worry about practices, training, specialization and everything else that comes along with sports performance. Find what you love to do and go have fun.
Age 11 Julia
In middle school, I bought a small bag of Jay’s barbecue chips and nutty bars for lunch…almost every day. My young athletes tell me that they eat McDonald’s or ice cream before coming to train at our facility. Some (which we don’t even allow them to drink) bring pop to sip on.
What do you think those foods are really doing for your performance as an athlete and student? There is a reason you feel lethargic or lazy or hungry all the time. You need to give your body the best food possible to make it do the things you want. There are many unseen effects from the food we eat.
Age 11 Bonus – I was walking home from school one day with my two best friends. A couple of girls were trailing behind. Suddenly, one of them came up behind us, tapped me on the shoulder and when I turned around, she took a swing at me. I grabbed her wrist before she hit me. She finally yelled, “Let go of me!” Her and her friend turned the corner and went on their way. I remember running home, not really sure what just happened or what I ever did to her. With the kids I coach, I see snickers and comments, again, things we don’t allow. We teach them to respect one another.
Be kind to the other kids. Your self-esteem does not improve by picking on other kids and bringing them down. Fill their bucket and yours will fill as well.
Age 15 Julia
In high school, I was an average athlete. I played volleyball and ran hurdles in track…two sports someone of a 5’3” stature probably shouldn’t be playing. Knowing that I wasn’t naturally gifted or tall or had the genetics to be great, I worked really hard. I saw some girls take their height for granted, which not only drove me crazy, but made me work even harder.
Don’t underestimate the value of hard work. You can control your work ethic. You may end up with coaches that don’t have the tools to make you a world champion but you can execute and practice with everything you have. Make mistakes at full speed.
Age 18 Julia
I went into college at the ripe young age of 17, turning 18 that fall. While I certainly wasn’t even the best track athlete in high school, I was now even lower on the totem pole in college. Instead of placing first or second in most races, I was now placing fourth or fifth. My coach decided to give me a hand at other events in hopes that I would eventually do the heptathalon. Unfortunately, all I saw was the immediate future instead of the long term. No one ever explained to me that if I trained, worked on my technique or got stronger that I would be an unstoppable force by my Junior or Senior year. All I could see was that practices seemed like a willy-nilly mess of “just put that freshman somewhere for the day.”
You are a smaller fish in a bigger pond now. Don’t expect to make waves, yet. Think long term and enjoy the training process. There is a reason there are four years between Olympic Games. Set goals, work your ass off and chase down those who are ahead of you. It won’t be easy but you can enjoy the process.