Don’t Delay Development In Favour Of the Fixture
It takes a courageous youth sports coach to maintain a development focus with an “important” competition pending.
And one of the biggest problems with many youth sports systems is that there always seems to be an important competition pending.
If a young athlete is always competing or preparing to compete, when are they building their foundation? Where is the room for remedial work or the opportunity to delve into some deep development work?
The fixture becomes the focus and their development is derailed.
An athlete’s development can be derailed when the fixture becomes the focus.
We get too fixated on youth sports competition fixtures. Everything revolves around the fixture. It is often the fixture that causes coaches to fast track the fundamentals, patch problems and ignore important issues. There is never time for lengthy periods of deep development. There is too much time spent working on the icing and not the cake.
Fixtures cause coaches to rush. They add time pressure to the development process. You can’t rush development.
A fixture focus adds time pressure to the development process.
- I’ve been fearful of “messing with” with an athlete’s technique when a competition is pending. This is despite the athlete possessing glaring faults and me being fully aware of the potential long-term and lasting benefits of intervening.
- I’ve decreased or eliminated critical development-related program content in favour of concentrating on training specifically for an upcoming event.
- I’ve decided that I will fix a problem or do more of the real work needed once upcoming championships are over.
Many people may see this as perfectly OK and normal.
But huge chunks of a season – weeks and even months – of valuable deep development work can be lost when this approach is taken. And you can’t get that back.
In some areas of Australia, there is a summer community track & field season and a winter school athletics season. Kids seem to be constantly competing and regularly having to attend meets that qualify them for the next level.
The fixture can adversely affect development.
The Consequences Of Fixating On The Fixture
A common problem in youth sports is that not enough time is spent steadily building young athletes. This is because coaches, parents and even the young athletes are often way too concerned with the outcome of the next competition.
It is understandable. Coaches are often judged by others – including parents and athletes – on the quality of their competitive results.
Pressure builds even more if a competition is some type of qualifying round that allows the athlete to progress to the next level.
A “results NOW” focus leads to a faulty foundation.
When focused on the fixture we can become too concerned with trying to get results NOW, which is often to the detriment of performance later. Chasing short-term results will usually see the laying of a faulty foundation and most likely a sports career eventually crashing down. Building a solid, quality base is slower going and requires patience but results in something that will more likely stand the test of time.
The answer is either that:
- The competitive calendar needs to change.
- We need to be less focused on the fixture.
With changes in systems being a slow-turning wheel, it is up to informed individuals to lead the way in relaxing the emphasis on short-term competitive outcomes.
But ultimately, youth sports organisations need to ensure that their competitive fixture is not complicit in this problem.
Advice to Coaches And Parents
- Have a long-term vision in mind. The destination will help you stay on track.
- Convince athletes of the value of regular, steady, sustainable progression.
- Emphasise ways that athletes are progressing. They usually will be even it isn’t yet showing up in competitive “wins”.
Resist the lure of a fixture focus. It will delay, and may even derail a young athlete’s development.
Over To You!
Start to take note of what is guiding your decisions about the content of a young athlete’s training sessions. Try to avoid being seduced by the “glory” of short-term (but often short-lived) results. Always defer to what will be best for the child in the long term. I would love to hear of any thoughts or anecdotes relating to this topic. You can leave a comment/reply or use the below contact details.
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Darren Wensor is a sports development professional, coach educator, specialist coach of young athletes, and founder of the blog coachingyoungathletes.com. Learn more about him here and connect with him on Twitter, Facebook, Linkedin, or via email. Check out Coaching Young Athletes on YouTube, the Coaching Young Athletes podcast, and the Coaching Young Athletes E-Book Series.