Youth Sports: Back to Basics

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As a parent, a coach, and a longtime athlete, I think about this topic often: why do we sign up our kids for sports? Most parents enroll our kids in sports at some point in their childhood. In fact, 45 million American kids play sports. It’s all giggles and carefree until we’re swept into the vortex that is games and private lessons and before we know it, we’re missing our sister’s wedding for a tournament. With increasingly privatized and expensive clubs, it seems that less are participating “for the love of the game” and more are feeling the pressure of the competitive youth sports scene. Sometimes we look past why youth sports exist in the first place and what we should look for in raising our kids through athletics. Some parents see talent in their young child in a certain sport and feel pressured to guide them down a single sport path; sometimes the competitive and specializing mindset works out and the six-year-old soccer star ends up with a full ride to her dream college. But we are learning more about the dangers of early specialization and the path to burnout.

Here are some ideas to challenge and empower us to think about a path to transformed youth sports, what to look for, and why we bring our kids to the athletic experience in the first place:

To build not only better athletes but better people.

When we sign up our kids for sports, it’s a tool for making them better people. When a young child talks to a trusting coach, she learns to communicate her feelings. When a boy learns how to lose gracefully, he learns humility. He also learns resilience. They learn to believe in themselves when odds are against them. They learn that people count on them to show up on time. That one time that they fall on the starting line, they learn that there’s another race. They learn that when they show up consistently, they’ll improve. When we sign up our kids for sports, this character development is what we are signing up for, and finding a program that shares this philosophy is important for the development of the whole child. Becoming a better athlete is a byproduct of all these qualities that make them a better human.

To give our kids a chance to take healthy risks.

My young daughter has been in a toddler gymnastics class for a couple years now. She loves it. I mean who knows, maybe she’ll want to be a gymnast down the road, but likely not. We do it because it’s fun for her, she gets to move her body and play with her peers. Just recently she’s been going through a stage where she’s nervous to go to class. Last week, my husband told her that it’s a “healthy risk” and he explained to her what it meant. He told her that sometimes it feels really good to be brave when you’re afraid of something and then you’re proud of yourself afterwards. Last week, she was nervous and we talked a lot about being a “brave girl” and that I would be there close by until she was comfortable. It didn’t take long for her to feel comfortable and eventually she was in her groove and so proud of herself afterward. She just wanted to know that I recognized her fears and that they were okay. Let’s encourage our kids to take healthy risks so they know what they’re capable of and what it feels like to be a little uncomfortable–because that’s where the magic of growth happens.

To show them that it’s okay if you’re not good at something right away.

For some reason there’s this unwritten rule that you’re supposed to be good at something right away. Says who?! Youth sports are so competitive now days, often with the focus on elite training, that it seems it’s easy for kids to throw in the towel if they’re not good right away. In fact, by age 15, 80% of kids have quit organized teams. That’s just silly. Kids should be able to try any sport they want and grow at the rate that’s appropriate for them. Every learning curve is okay. Some kids are quick learners and natural athletes. Some kids take things slow and are not out there to become youth elites. An appropriate youth sports approach should embrace all learning curves and styles.

To give them a chance to have ownership and intrinsic motivation.

There is nothing more satisfying than a kid who says, “I did it!” Whether it’s climbing a tree, building a castle, or finishing a race, we own that feat at every age. It’s not that she won or was the best, but that by her own heart and willpower, she completed a challenge. When a child tackles something, she develops ownership over her body and her mind. She has the tools to accomplish greatness. Motivation is built here and there’s no stopping an empowered kid with momentum and confidence.

To give them a childhood.

Perhaps most importantly, we introduce our kids to sports as one way to have an awesome childhood. I firmly believe that, along with other outlets and activities, participation in sports can be the recipe for beautiful growing years. We sign them up to build the foundations for an active life. While it’s great that a select few will play in high school and college, this should not be the goal. We should aim to put them on a path for character exploration, broad participation, balance, and health. Sports should be a tool to enhance childhood, not to take away from this precious time.

 

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Track & Field Camp Coming Summer 2016!

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In thinking of the new year, I decided I would set aside resolutions, take 2016 as it would come, but listen to little signs that indicate I should walk toward certain opportunities. As the year unfolds, I continue to peek a little closer at the world of running and track and field, and as I do so, the door keeps opening a little wider.

One thing continues to lead to the next, and I find myself here looking at an opportunity to share the sport of track and field with the young people of Santa Cruz County. While details are still unfolding, I’m excited to bring a premier track and field camp to the area July 11-22 for kids ages 6-13.

Track & field is so much more than just moving your body on or near and oval. It is so deeply rooted in tradition, with the purpose in the ancient Olympic games to foster the ideal of “a sound mind in a sound body.” It is as much a physical practice as a mental one. As much a team sport as an individual one. It’s where we can shape children into joyous athletes with tools that can help them tackle athletic and life events. I learned some of my favorite life tools from the hours I spent on the track. I made my best friends and developed a lifelong commitment to health and exercise.

Whether or not the little athletes go on to continue the sport competitively, they will leave camp with intangible rewards. Kids of any level, body type, and athletic goals will leave camp with the confidence, skills, and teamwork to translate into any sport or endeavor. My hope is that kids add track & field to their list of sports to try, and then maybe it’ll stick. My goal is to help young people develop physically and mentally in a way that challenges them to use their bodies and their minds in a way that empowers them to develop into strong and resilient individuals. To show them that when they’re standing on the starting line, surrounded by teammates and competitors, it’s a moment in time to showcase the limits of human potential. That when you’re in the shot put ring, with one final throw, your thoughts might be more powerful than any other muscle in your body. That taking risks and failing is part of growing up.

I’m so excited to help young people challenge themselves and learn some of the greatest athletic and life skills through the sport of track and field!

Santa Cruz Track & Field Camp:

*Website, registration, and details forthcoming.*

Date: July 11-22

Time: 9am-1pm

Ages: 6-13 with an elementary and middle school program

Location: Aptos High School Track

Included: Excellent coaching staff, event technique, Wharf to Wharf racing bib, mini Olympics, awards, track bag, snacks, prizes, nutrition coaching, and a lot of FUN!

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