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5 Athletic Development Observations of the Modern Athlete

Sports are evolving at an unprecedented rate. Whether it's rule changes to how certain sports are played or the creation of new sports technology and analytics; the evolution of sports has and will continue to change the ways the modern athlete develops. Here are 5 athletic development observations of the modern athlete.

Observation #1: Passion

If there's one thing to describe the modern athlete, I would say it's PASSION. Sports has always had a way of bringing emotion out of people. Athletes invest countless hours practicing, traveling, competing, etc., because most love to do it and want to be good at it. The modern athlete is heavily invested in their sport not only with the time commitment but also very much invested emotionally. So, it's not surprising to see the amount of passion expressed these days during games and competition. With this energy and effort put into sports, there also comes the raised expectation of success. Not only by the athlete but by coaches, parents and others who are also invested with their time, efforts and financially. Many times, raised expectation can be a good thing. It can drive extraordinary efforts to achieve goals and success. But other times, it can lead to extreme frustration and emotional outburst from any and all involved. It seems like we see it nearly everyday now, where there's a fight in the game, argument in the stands or someone screaming at referee/umpire. This is where we all need to be better. The passion we have for something is a wonderful thing when it's expressed with respect and understanding of others. The passion that athletes have for their sports is not going away, nor should it! As coaches, parents and fans though, we can provide good examples and the guidance sometimes needed for these passionate athlete to express themselves positively through sports. For many, sports are a tremendously healthy outlet. We just need to support and encourage this passion to be expressed with the respect and positivity that we expect from others.

Observation #2: Long-Term Athletic Development Lacking

While athletes may be specializing in one sport at an earlier age, that does not mean that they are developing the physical traits and qualities needed for them to stay healthy and improving skills for the length of a long athletic career. In fact, many athletes are in sport programs and organizations these days, that focus only on competition and very little on fundamental skill development. These programs/organizations are also not providing the founfational strength and conditioning programming necessary for young athletes to stay healthy and physically developing for a long career. Outside of strength and conditioning being simply added as a program amenity or one focused solely on short-term performance, many athletes on choices are to endure in this system or seek alternatives on their own. In this non-developmental environment, the early specialization issues of injuries and burnout can be compounded and thus increasing the likelihood of skills plateauing or not developing at all. There can be many reasons why long-term athletic development plans that include fundamental, physical and mental skills development, is not valued or correctly implemented. One is that coaches and administrators view winning as a priority over individual development of the whole athlete. Therefore, the focus is centered around how to win each game, even if it's at the potential risk of an athlete getting hurt (e.g. baseball pitch counts, football concussions) or not developing the requisite skills to have success at the next level. Another is the absence of a qualified personnel to implement and oversee a strength and conditioning program. Many think because they workout and/or have gone through a strength and conditioning program as an athlete, that they are qualified to design and implement one. That's simply not true. Like many other health sciences professions; education, experience and certifications are all required to be a competent professional who can design, implement and oversee a long-term health and physical development program for athletes. Hopefully in time, high schools and all colleges will understand the value and dedicate resources to providing the qualified health professionals necessary to ensure athlete safety, health and high performance. So with all that being said, long-term athletic development takes a commitment from coaches, parents, administrators and athletes to look beyond the short-term goals and instant gratification, to see the big picture of a long-term, successful athletic career. By doing so though, just think of how many athletes we could possibly prevent from quitting sports, having career ending injuries or not developing the fundamental skills needed for continued development and success.

Observation #3: Coachability?

If you were to poll a group of coaches about whether they would take an athlete with a ton of talent but was not coachable or an athlete with little talent but very coachable, the vast majority would take the latter. And yet it appears that more and more young athletes are becoming less coachable. They talk while coaches are talking. They complain about what they should or shouldn't be doing. They don't listen and/or follow instructions. These are a few examples of how some athletes are behaving when it comes to being instructed by a coach. This is a growing issue that can absolutely hinder an athlete's development. For one, if an athlete is not able to follow instructions and receive and apply feedback, then it's going to be very hard for them to improve skills and perform at a high level just on their own. Two, it will be very hard for a coach to trust any athlete in a game situation, if they can't be relied upon to follow instructions or a plan. Coaches will just choose to play the athletes they trust more and spend more time working with the athletes who are willing to be coachable. The good news is that this can be a reversible trend by teaching these young athletes HOW to be coachable as well as by holding them ACCOUNTABLE when they're not. We all can take a roll in reinforcing the coachability behavior in our young athletes and need to for their benefit.

Observation #4: Early Specialization

Even with high profile coaches expressing the importance of playing multiple sports; doctors warning of the dangers early specialization poses to young athletes, we continue to see sports specialization starting younger and younger. Part of this early specialization movement is because there's an abundance of opportunity to play most sports year-round. This has not always been the case. Another part is that the competitive sports landscape has moved younger and younger, thus forcing athletes with aspirations to play high school, college or professional sports, to develop earlier in order to keep up. While there's a growing body of evidence supporting the value of delayed specialization, there's seems to be little interest and/or opportunity for this to occur. Unless you live in a rural area that doesn't have as many choices to play year-round or a large talent pool that is specializing at a young age, then there will continue to be the lure to follow this early specialization movement. Until more sports leagues and organizations require better health & safety protocols for young athletes, this will continue to be an issue.

Observation #5: Resourcefulness

In an era of mass sharing of information and experiences through social media and other technologies, there are plenty of distractions and noise for athletes to deal with. What's extremely impressive is how well equipped today's athletes are to utilize these resources to improve their skills and athletic performance. Many take the initiative to seek out information and apply it on their own. Sometimes that may not be the best thing depending on the quality and source of information being provided. But for the most part, this resourcefulness is a positive trait that the modern athlete has to get better, rather than just waiting to be told what to do. While a filter may be necessary at times due to the shear volume of information available, we should encourage athletes to continue to take ownership in their athletic development.

Thanks for reading!

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