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What Do Youth Athletes Actually Control?

08/16/2017, 5:00am PDT
By Kelvin Cech


Last week I wrote an article on a TED Talk given by the late legendary basketball coach John Wooden, he of the powerhouse UCLA Men’s squad that captured ten championships in 12 years back in the 50’s.

But for Wooden, the hardware his teams picked up didn’t define whether or not they were successful. 

No, the true success for coach and player comes in the pursuit of improvement. Every day, in all facets. If one consistently worries solely about what one can control, then that counts as a resounding success. 

It got me thinking. What do young athletes control? As I was working on the meat and potatoes of this post and coming up with ideas such as punctuality and preparation, it occurred to me that no matter how much responsibility they take, young athletes still rely on their parents for the bulk of their athletic experience. 

Being On Time: For most athletes across every sport this is the most basic item in their control. In order to be an elite athlete you have to balance your time, organize your schedule, and make sure you get to the rink/court/field on time. If you’re late, you’re not ready or willing to respect the schedule of the team.

But most young athletes don’t drive themselves to the rink. That’s a problem. There are siblings and other life things that require attention as well.

Rest & Nutrition: Alright, athletes have this one completely under control, right? It might be tricky for a teenager to realize the correlation between going to bed at a reasonable hour and having the energy to compete the next day, but it’s still within their control. No problems there. 

But what about nutrition? Most athletes living with their parents depend on mom and dad for meals. They can push away the chips and the snacks from time to time, but rare is the teenager who can sufficiently sustain him or herself in the kitchen. They can help though!

Preparation Details: You’re on your own now junior. Preparation is both the most important habit to adopt for young athletes who want to maintain consistent competition, as well as being the most applicable life skill sports can teach. 

What sort of details?

  • Remembering all your equipment (hockey players)
  • Remembering to warm up properly (tennis players)
  • Remembering to mentally prepare (swimmers)

Each detail is universal across all sports, but highlighted for the three big NSWC sports. 

Mom and dad can’t save you here. Every coach has heard excuses for lack of preparation, and I’m sorry to inform you, parents, but you’re taking the lion’s share of the blame. Sometimes it’s fair - you have to drive them to the rink, you have to feed them, you have to buy the equipment - but you don’t have to pack the equipment. 

“Yeah but if I don’t do it then they’ll forget something.”

Let them forget! 

It won’t happen more than once or twice, and if it does then maybe there’s a bigger lesson to be learned. It’s far easier to learn these lessons when you’re young. If a parent is always packing bags or snacks then the athlete is going to grow up believing this is the norm. It might be subconscious, but an athlete who doesn’t learn to respect his or her gear, time, and other habits is going to have a difficult time reaching elite levels later on. 

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