All too often, I read comments and articles about the growing shift in the mindset of youth athletes. They are continuously labeled as entitled and unaccountable versus hard-working and responsible.
Since August, I've had the opportunity to work with two teams: a high school team for 12 weeks and seventh and eighth-graders for 20 weeks. If you know me, I am not the first person you'd guess would be coaching seventh and eighth-graders. I was pleasantly reminded why I am happy to work with kids.
Both teams were a gift to my day, but particularly the younger team. The high schoolers had a bit more discipline and team captains were given more responsibility by me to keep things in check. The middle schoolers, however, didn't quite get teamwork--it took some work. When someone is maxing out, don't go do a cartwheel b/c you're done. When I'm talking, listen. When you walk in the room, don't nap in the corner, foam roll and make use of your time with your team before the session begins. They took turns leading the dynamic warm-up and were responsible for specific tempos and reps, and for watching the 3rd row while they were in the first row. Accountable. Check.
Slowly, they morphed into more of a team. Their squirrelly chatter and energy on some days was a welcome diversion from other aspects of my life, as well as their lethargic silence from complete exhaustion on other days. I enjoyed both phenomena and subdued their hyperactivity with calming music and blasted Beyonce dance party on the days they were half dead from school and training to revive their tired bodies enough to get through their workout. Hard working. Check.
These kids asked lots of questions, which I fully encouraged and welcomed in their sessions. It told me they're thinking and engaged. When they didn't ask questions, I asked them instead. We used peer coaching because it highlighted what they knew and fed into confidence and thus a better team dynamic. We always stopped for teaching points and a-ha moments. We related movements to techniques they'd use in their specific sport so they understood the extra benefit of them showing up at 7 PM on a Tuesday night vs staying home on their iPad. Responsible. Check.
This is not a unique group of kids. They are very similar to most youth athletes, I would guess. If they did something incorrectly, they were told. If they were too distracted, they were redirected. If they did well, they were praised, and then praised again, and then a little more just for good measure. This is not an anomaly to work with a group of hard working and responsible athletes. This is a pretty simple concept. It's called finding the good in coaching. Check.
Let's start looking at the opportunity we have to shape youth athletics instead of looking at how they do things differently than when we were training and competing. Yes, things are changing. But a kid showing up to train is a special opportunity, it is up to us to show them what that is.
Kari Woodall is a senior instructor for TRX based in Middleton, Wis. Before starting her own fitness training business she was a swimmer on the USA National Team and an assistant swim coach at the University of North Carolina, Northwestern and the University of Wisconsin. Woodall was the subject of this Athletic Business story in 2013. Originally published on her Facebook page, this piece has been republished with her permission.