I am going to forewarn you that there will parts of this article that could be a gut-check for you. Many of the things I talk about are things that I have fought with and have learned through my experiences. My primary reason for writing this stems from the fact that I am sick of seeing kids being bashed, while adults, coaches, trainers, and everyone else within the system take no accountability for their roles. Our kids aren’t broken but the system certainly is damaging them- and that system is led by parents, coaches, private trainers, and tournament directors. When I look on social media or talk to other coaches, the common theme in some shape or form is that kids are lazy, aren’t tough, selfish, or some other phrase along those lines. While that could be true in some instances, what’s never pointed out or analyzed is the actual root of these issues.
What are we Modeling?
I can’t help but laugh at some of the adults that are demanding that kids need to work harder. Some of those people are the same ones who have never left their own comfort zone. They’re probably some of the same people who are checking the clock at work and give half-ass effort throughout the day at their own jobs; they’re probably the same ones who haven’t went through a grueling workout themselves in years. Some of the coaches who sit with their hands in their pockets and start practice 15 minutes late and do the same boring drills every day to fill time are often the loudest in their complaints of kids.
I’m not at all saying that some kids don’t need a kick in the ass- I work with some that do- but before we have numerous adults jumping all over a generation of kids- lets make sure that we as adults are taking a hard look at ourselves in the mirror first. Modeling the behaviors in which we wish to see in other people is the strongest form of leadership. Actions speak- and you better believe that kids are watching our actions- and the words we speak are going to fall on deaf ears if the things we do each and every day don’t line up with the words we are speaking.
So before we complain, condemn, criticize, and wonder why we can’t get our kids to work hard- lets make sure we first check the mirror.
Analyzing the Training Load:
I know kids who practice five times a week and play five games on the weekend in one sport. They then proceed to practice two to three more times per week in another sport and engage in additional training on the side for each. I know the expression is, “They’re kids- they can handle it.” In most cases, this is true.. until it’s not. At some point, if it is not managed correctly, that physical stress is going to lead to injury.
What’s the solution? For coaches, it’s getting rid of the BS drills and creating better, more efficient practice designs. For parents, it’s putting away this idea of “more is always better” and killing your kids’ enthusiasm by signing them up for every activity possible. Let me explain.
I’ve never coached a team that practices more than 2-3x per week at 90 minute clips (even 90 minutes is too long sometimes IMO). Players who have the desire for more will engage in their own self-directed workouts, strength and conditioning sessions, free play, or maybe a form of group training. When a coach designs a practice or a workout, it’s crucial that they aren’t just “filling time”- everything should have a purpose. For example, the half speed, half engaged “ball-handling workout” at the beginning of practice or a training session is an absolute waste of time. So many coaches and trainers keep kids in the gym for much longer than necessary just to fill the allotted time. Cut practice short and send the kids home. If you’re ambitious, learn more about movement and engage the players in movement efficiency work- every kid on the planet needs more of this. Early in my college career, we used to practice 5-6x a week; many of the practices, especially in the pre-season, stretched for over four hours long per practice. Even if it wasn’t the most physically exhausting practice, every player was cashed out mentally or just from being on their feet for that long. A lot of coaches will rationalize longer practices by saying they are walk-throughs or “mental” practices. Whatever the rationale is, there is likely a ton of wasted time. Long, drawn-out practices take a physical toll on the body, are mentally draining, and cuts into time for school activity as well as the recovery process. Start practice on time and be efficient with the time you have- eliminate drills that have no purpose!
With the numerous programs, teams, and opportunities that are more readily available to kids, parents want to make sure their kids aren’t falling behind. I get it. Parents want their kids to have the training and coaching they never had. They want them to have every possible opportunity to be successful. I respect that and I empathize with how hard it is to decide what’s the best route for a kid. In my opinion, the key is to evaluate the necessity of certain activities. For example, I don’t think it’s necessarily helping a kid to play AAU basketball, practice with their school team, play summer league, and then attend four-hour long camps every day in the summer. Oh yeah- lets not forget they still have to go to baseball practice and go to summer school that day too.
Parents have to do an evaluation or find someone they trust to help identify where their kid is at and figure out what activities can be cut out or replaced. If your kid is spending 4 hours in the gym at summer league and playing for 15 minutes over the course of two games- that time might be better spent in the weight room for an hour and then resting so they can be more effective in other activities. Another idea might be instead of sending a kid to five four-day camps that stretch four hours long each day, send them to one or two short, intense, efficient workouts each week. The key is figuring out what the best, most efficient uses of time are. Don’t just sign a kid up for every activity under the sun because you want them to keep up with their classmates or you think they need twelve hours of activity every day to improve- they don’t! Ask tough questions about training programs and to directors-find out what benefits your kid will receive, and most importantly, have a feel for what your kid wants to do. It’s great to be “putting in the work”, but that should also be coupled with time for free play along with rest.
Honesty is the Only Policy:
I see kids jumping from AAU team to AAU team every season. For many, its not a better opportunity- it has more to do with being promised a starting position, a certain number of shots, and you guessed it….a scholarship. Before I go on- there are a very select few that may get a scholarship- but it won’t be because of any team they play for in the summer or what a program will allegedly do for them. If a player is fortunate enough to get to that point, it will be because he or she earned it through busting their tail in practice and performing to their capability in games. I’m disgusted by how many adults tell kids where they can take them without telling them about the process and the expectations they will have first. We wonder why so many kids think they are “D1 Material”- look no further than how many adults are whispering to kids that they can go “D1” without understanding it themselves or truly informing the kids what it takes to reach that elite level!
I am all in for supporting kids, giving them hope and encouragement, and telling them their dreams are possible, but it’s always coupled with telling them the truth. Every kid that will ever play for me knows that there are no guarantees- except that I’ll do whatever I can to help them, that they will always get my best effort, and that they will be challenged as a person and as a player. The rest is up to them.
Programs and trainers have tons of revenue on the line, they have shoe sponsorships, and personal agendas- they know that most kids are impressionable and sadly, most parents are too. The truth that you have to work hard, make commitments and sacrifices to EARN a scholarship (and that’s only IF you so happen to be anywhere near good enough, which is very rare), playing time, or ANYTHING for that matter isn’t nearly as appealing as shoes, videos, tweets, and guarantees.
Social media is a tremendous asset. I have learned a great deal of information, connected with unbelievable people, and found avenues to help others through it. Unfortunately for all the good that social media can be used for it can also be damaging- especially for kids, parents, and coaches who don’t know any better. Too many are using social media to say, “look at me” and validating their brands on the heels of kids’ accomplishments. Parents and kids love this recognition- it’s hard to blame them- when I was a kid I would have too.
While some programs may be trying to assist in exposure, I question the true intentions of @ mentions on Twitter, the frequent public acknowledgments by trainers, and some of the things attached to AAU programs social media platforms. Maybe I’m wrong in my assumption, but the constant “my guy did this” or “our guy did this” seems like a ploy for validation and is more of a marketing game than anything else, which, if true, is a huge problem. More people are invested and concerned with their personal brands being validated on social media than they are with anything else. I get the marketing component to business- it’s part of it- but at the end of the day, its more important to care about the service and content (some training companies produce awesome content on social media) we are providing than any promotional tactic. If your brand image desires trump the actual service and what you’re doing for the players- you’re damaging the game and harming the system.
Let Them Struggle:
I talk about this all the time. it’s okay for kids to struggle and at times, fall completely on their face. It’s so hard to see in the moment- but they’ll learn from it at some point, somehow. When parents endorse every complaint from a kid or try to take on and fight every battle for their kids- it really hurts the kid. It’s my personal opinion and policy that a kid always should be the first to approach a coach in regards to playing time. Only after I have had a truly open and honest conversation with the kid will I have a discussion with a parent regarding playing time. It’s not that I don’t want to talk to parents or think they don’t have the right to know (they have every right to know things about their kid)- I want the kid to take ownership and show me that they truly care first. Too many adults want to take challenges away from kids and then turnaround and ask, “Why isn’t this generation persistent, gritty, or resilient?” The answer is easy- they are- they all have it internally, they just never get the chance to be because their opportunity to be is taken away on the first sign of struggle!
I hope I stirred some reflection for anyone who got to this point. If you did make it this far, I truly want to thank you for reading and as always, I welcome any feedback you may have!