In the late 1990’s a couple of Australian women became the dominant beach volleyball players of their time, and the two that all others looked to beat. They won bronze at the Olympic games in Atlanta Georgia, and then gold at the games in Sydney, (as well as dominated a whole host of tournaments in between). They became the elite of their sport, and the inspiration for millions of young female athletes to strive for success.
I had the pleasure of having lunch with one of them last weekend, Kerri Pottharst, and learning about her story. (and I got to put on her gold medal just to see how it felt to “wear Olympic gold…” Awesome!)
Kerri did not go through her childhood with a volleyball in her hand. She was not hustled to three
volleyball practices a week, games and tournaments on the weekends, and skills camps four or five times a year. She grew up playing outside in the yard, swimming in the ocean, playing many different games and sports for fun. For the most part she grew up like a “normal kid.”
It wasn’t until her middle high school years when her older brother asked her to stand on the volleyball court so his team would have enough players to compete did she even touch a volleyball. But by then, she had “played” enough in many other sports and activities that she had a fair amount of athletic skill (and the very-helpful six-feet of long, lanky height that’s key to volleyball…)
She of course fell in love with the sport, dominated the indoor circuit and eventually went on to dominate the beach circuit and create a marvelous life and career and be the inspiration for millions (including me)…
Many parents are making a big mistake right now when it comes to “helping” their children succeed at sports. They’re letting them play a single sport too much, at the risk of not “preparing” to be better athletes like Kerri did (and many other extremely successful, top-of-their-game-for-many-years athletes).
Practices, games, camps, clinics all focusing on perfecting a single sport, a single skill year-round—and year after year—are crushing kids’ bodies and really stifling their development of true, multi-skill athleticism. (and even if they are playing other sports they still continue playing their one “favorite” most competitive sport year-round in addition).
The fact is, too much of one thing is just too hard on the body. The brain desires novelty when it comes to movement. Novelty is what drives freshness and a more healthy “brain mapping” of our bodies. Without it movement becomes automated, joints become stale, injuries occur and learning does not…
I once heard a recruiter from the Marines state that he’s disappointed in the performance of most of the recruits these days once they get to boot camp. Many are “star athletes” out of high school, but it turns out they’re only good at a single sport; one skill. As soon as they face the challenge of many different skills (like you’d expect in boot camp) they crumble and fail as an “athlete.”
If your child is a junior high or high school aspiring athlete I have two suggestions based on 20 years of experience in the field of sports performance:
First, don’t let them specialize in only one sport until at least high school. Even if a certain sport is their favorite and they love playing it, don’t play competitively in that sport year-round. Take an “off-season” and go fishing, go climb rocks, and only play it for fun at the park, not “professionally” with formal practices, games and skills camps. Give the body a rest from those skills and work at developing others (in another sport or in the weight room).
Second, “prepare” for their favorite sport by hitting the weight room in the “off-season.” The road to college and professional sports is through the weight room. Sounds old-school, I know. But it’s true. If a child’s goal is to progress in sport then they’ve got to “prepare” to play. Don’t spend the “off-season” doing the same skills that they’ve already been working on for the last five months. Switch it up and follow a formula for success that college and professional athletes have been doing for decades… hit the weight room! (and I’m not talking about body-building, that’s a completely different sport, I’m talking about athlete strength and conditioning and basic athletic skill development.)
The fear is that if you don’t play with the team (and hence the coach) through the off-season you’re not going to get exposure and know the plays and skills as well as the others, ultimately losing a chance at the starting position once the real season comes around. But the fact is, coaches want to win. And the athlete that shows up with the most athleticism, prepared to play hard because of three months of hard training, will always rise above the others. And this is especially true, when those others are hurt mid-season, or not playing to their potential because their knees, elbows and shoulders are “achy” from too much repetitive overuse…
The program we use at Athlon is modeled on the same programs that have helped high school, college and professional athletes excel at their sport for years and years. It’s a combination of coordination and agility practice, joint mobility training, speed and power development, strength training and energy systems development. It’s always novel to the athlete by design and it’s coached in a fun and supportive athlete community. It works. I’ve watched it work for years. It’s designed around a successful formula, not a quick-buck strategy and the results are always outstanding!
This off-season every athlete has a choice to make: continue playing and practicing the same exact, tired skills in a formal team setting, or hit the weight room and work at getting better for the real season that lies ahead.
Until next time,
P.S. you can learn more about our Sports Performance training be clicking the link. And then if you’re interested to learn more submit the complimentary consultation form on the clipboard at the top of the page. I’ll explain the whole thing to you in a no-obligation fitness, performance and nutrition consultation session. Simple as that…
P.P.S. if you agree or don’t agree please share your opinion by commenting below. There are a lot of parents out there trying to figure out where they stand on this topic and your opinion and experience would be helpful. Thank you!