Athletes, Coaching, Communication, Competition, Evaluation, Parent, Skill Development, Training

A Parents Guide for Youth Sports : To Compete or Not Compete

multi sport collage

When a young student begins an activity, it is usually because they have a desire to do so. They may have friends that are doing the activity or seen it on television that sparks their interest. Whatever the reason, participation starts out at the beginning stages and the athlete will quickly decide if it is something they enjoy and want to pursue to higher levels.

Many sports are automatically competitive and is a major focus even for beginning students. Sports such as football, baseball, basketball, and soccer all have competitive games that are part of the participation. When a child participates in one of these types of sports, they become a competitor.

Some athletes thrive in this environment and love the competition. However, there are others who like the activity but not the competition. So, the question to consider is: “to compete or not compete?” This question is usually answered by the parent. Parents who enroll their child in a competitive sport should be aware of how the child reacts to this environment. Of course, competition is scary at first for a young athlete, so encouragement and patience may be necessary. Many parents will wait for a season to end before determining if that sport was the right decision.

CartwheelThere are other sports that have a recreational only side of the sport where the students are not trained to compete. These include sports like gymnastics, dance, and golf to name only a few. Many children who participate in these types of sports do so for fun and enjoyment. The time commitment is typically less than in a competitive sport and there is little stress involved in participation.

It is typically the passion and desires of those athletes who choose to pursue the competitive side of sports. These athletes may have a natural competitive attitude. This drives them to stay motivated, train hard, and want to win. They are excited about spending as much time as they can practicing their sport. As with most competitive athletes, the objective is to train to win. There are many factors at play with competitive sports. These include learning great sportsmanship, learning how to lose gracefully, and more importantly, how to remain humble when success is achieved (Win or Lose: Sports Learning Curve).

The biggest difference between the athlete who enjoys the recreational side vs the competitive side of sport is the effort and dedication factors. Athletes who participate as a recreational activity will usually spend much less time at the activity. Training these athletes is also much different. Although, the students should still learn the skills correctly, effectively, and safely, there is no pressure to perform at any level. In this environment, training may not be focused on skill development detail as training with a competitive athlete.

The programs I operate are strictly recreational and the focus of our curriculum is centered mostly on tumbling elements – which is the foundation of all gymnastics. In addition, tumbling is an important part of cheerleading, dance, and martial arts. Thus, our programs draw in athletes from several different sports disciplines (Programs for the Rec Student).
Since our programs are strictly recreational and incorporates athletes from different disciplines, we have scenario’s where the students grow out of our program to pursue higher levels of sport. This is the dynamic of not offering a competitive program, however, we pride ourselves in developing students to the point where they can be accepted and take the sport to higher levels.

Coaches conference
Parents Need to be Educated

When a student is ready for this transition or the parent is interested in taking their child to the next level, it is important to explain the differences in the style of programs. Especially if the recreational program is not located in a gym that also has competitive program running simultaneously. When an experienced student makes the transition from a recreational program to pursue a competitive program, the training commitment and schedule will usually become much more demanding. In addition, there may also be a difference in skill development.

There are students who leave the recreational program to join a competitive program where they have thrived and become successful competitors. However, there are others who return or quit altogether because it wasn’t what they expected. There are several factors to consider when making this adjustment. Age is a big factor when considering this transition. Many students may be just too young to handle the structure and demand required in a competitive program. Another factor may be the sacrifice in the time commitment.

I always discuss with the parent when they ask about this transition the factors to consider (Coaching the Parents). Most importantly, if a student wants to give competition a try, I think they should experience the atmosphere. Most gyms will allow a trial period before a commitment is made. They will never know unless they try!!

kids on dance floor

I hope this article is helpful for those seeking information for youth sports development.  I will soon be releasing a series of manuals and video’s that will be beneficial for many.  These will include skill development, safety and spotting, program development, training atmospheres, and many more subjects to enhance the development of coaches and athletes.

If you have concerns or need assistance with your training program, do not hesitate to contact me.  If you would like an on-line training session via Skype, please contact me for scheduling.


Mental Training

The Motivation Factor

motivation wordWe have all heard that it takes a lot of effort and hard work to reach goals and become successful.  Some may have to work harder than others depending on their talents and background and it makes sense that those who work harder will accomplish more.  There are a number of factors that can influence success, such as: time, accommodations, environments, outside influences, and FEAR, to name a few.  But I believe the most important factor in achieving success is Motivation. In this post discussion, I will focus on the motivation factor – how it is created, maintained, lost, and even destroyed.

We all have ideas on how to inspire and motivate students.  For the coach or instructor, this is one of the most challenging aspects of skill development, especially for those athletes training for competitions or special events.  Motivation factors will vary depending on the level of participation.  For the beginning student, motivation is not necessarily a challenge to achieve as the student is mostly participating for fun.  However, as the student progresses to higher levels and the need for disciplined training is mandated, the motivation factor plays a much larger role.

coach and athletes

So, where does motivation come from?  It is different for each of us, however, it is directly related to the goals and desires of the individual.  The stronger the desire and passion to achieve something, the stronger the motivation.  This type of motivation is considered to be Internal Motivation, which means the person is self motivated without external assistance.  This is the strongest and most effective type of motivation.  Most people who have achieved great success are driven by internal motivation.  The desire and passion to achieve a particular goal is so strong that the individual is most often very motivated.  Another type of motivation factor is called External Motivation.  This is where it becomes challenging for the instructors.  If the student seems to be losing their desire to achieve, the instructor needs to find ways to motivate the student, which can be very difficult.  Instructors need to be extremely creative at times in order to keep a student or group of students motivated.

It is almost impossible to expect a person to be 100% motivated 100% of the time.  Even the most successful people will experience a deep fall in their motivation several times throughout their careers.  This drop or loss in motivation may be one of the most difficult challenges to overcome.  I have experienced this scenario several times throughout my competitive career and it has always been a true challenge.  There are many factors that may cause a loss in motivation: injury, dramatic changes in one’s personal life, negative environments, and burn-out are a few examples.  However, no matter the cause, every individual is different and the approach to addressing the problem should be done on an individual basis.

Be happy pic

As mentioned earlier, the coach/instructor needs to be creative in attempting to motivate a particular athlete or group of athletes.  I have always had a philosophy that in order for someone to be motivated to achieve their goals, the person needs to love what they are doing.  If a student loves what they are doing, they will be more likely and motivated to put out the effort it takes to be successful.  One example:  for you parents out there, how difficult is it to get your child to clean their room?  Although, some (very few) children are great at this, the norm is the opposite.  Why?  because it is no fun!!  I have yet to hear of a child who is motivated and excited to keep their room clean at all times.  So what can the parents do to motivate their children to be excited about doing this terrible thing?  Well, money surely is a good thing:), gifts, promises of something fun?  These are certainly incentives that may spark some motivation.  Another tactic that is used, which I do not particularly agree with in most cases, is threatening or negative consequences, especially if the motivation blocker is fear.

It is true that this type of action works to enhance performance and effort, but the influence in this type of behavior is considered negative external motivation which can possibly intensify the students’ negative behavior and feelings.  There are students who respond positively to this type of action, but may only last for a short period of time. I have seen consequences such as conditioning, sitting out, or even being kicked-out of the gym to attempt to get a student to motivate in their training.  In many cases, when the student loses their motivation and desire, it may be short-lived and the student bounces back.  However, if the problem persists for a longer period of time, the coach/instructor needs to re-evaluate the situation and determine if the student needs to make a major life change and possibly end their participation.  We see this especially in the older (teenage years) of an athlete.  As social environments become more involved in a person’s life, desires certainly change.  When once the young athlete wants to become a great athlete and champion, as the child grows, this desire may fade away.  It is a choice the student needs to ultimately make- not the coach or the parents.

Failure Depression pic

I have experienced cases where it is obvious the desire and spark has left the athlete, however, still forced to attempt to continue in a serious matter, which typically ends in failure and disgrace.  This is not the way a career should end.  This is a very difficult situation for all involved.  There may have been years of sacrifice (time and money) for a child’s growth in a program with hopes of future success – whether it be an Olympic dream or for a collegiate scholarship opportunity.  However, if the student has lost all desire to achieve, failure will certainly prevail.

Evaluation of the loss of motivation needs to be considered.  It may be a short lived scenario and should be worked through.  One common issue is that of Burn-Out.  This is a common scenario and can be overcome through time and patience.  I have experienced this problem numerous times throughout my career and it has always been a challenge.  There were times when I had no motivation at all and even wanted to quit the sport.  This would occur especially after a very busy competitive season.  The best cure was to take a step back in training and change the training environment where it is more relaxed and fun.  After a period of time, the spark re-ignites and the motivation continues as before.  Coaches need to understand this transition and be patient with the athlete.  If burn-out occurs during the competitive season, it becomes a challenge for all and the issue may escalate to a dangerous level.

Failure pic

Another issue affecting a loss in motivation is that of failure. Everyone has failed at something in their lifetime, some more than others.  There is nothing more degrading and miserable than failing, especially at something you live your life to achieve.  If failure is consistent, motivation will be very difficult to restore and the person will most likely end their participation.  However, failure can be a powerful tool in restoring ones internal motivation.  We have all heard the phrase “learn from your mistakes”, and if the individual is able to heed this advise, then the passion may return.  This scenario was a major factor in my own success as an athlete.

Failure phrase

Following our Olympic success in 1984, I made the decision to continue with my career and shoot for the 1988 Olympics.  In 1985 and 1986, my motivation factor took a big plunge.  I didn’t train the way I should have and it drastically effected my performance in competition.  In 1986, I performed so poorly at our USA National Championships, that I was lucky to make the National Team.  I was not picked to participate in the major international competitions that I was accustomed to for so many years.  The talk in the national gymnastics arena was that Scott Johnson was all washed up and should retire.  I was ashamed and extremely embarrassed.  I knew I had the ability to be a champion and it was the slap in the face I needed.  The following year in 1987, I became the USA National  Gymnastics AA Champion.  I am convinced this would not have happened if I did not have that terrible failure the year before.  In this case, Failure was a good thing!!

Believe in yourself pic

The motivation factor is certainly ranked among the top factors in determining whether someone will achieve success or failure.  Coaches, parents, students, and peers should all be aware and understand this issue so they can be supportive of ones desires.  I believe that all individuals involved with an activity should feel proud of their participation and efforts.  If it is sports that your involved with, it will not last forever, and it would sure be nice to look back and feel great about that participation.  Always remember,  “if you love what you are doing, you will be motivated to put forth the effort needed to become successful”.

I hope this discussion is helpful for those struggling with motivation.  I would be glad to discuss further if you have questions, so do not hesitate to comment or send me a message.  Also, if there are any subjects you would like me to cover, let me know and I will do my best to post my thoughts.  As always, I would love to hear your comments.  Please Like and Share to all you believe will benefit from the information.

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