When an athlete excels at a young age, the inclination is to give them more. This is most felt when training with a group of multiple levels where an athlete is exceeding the speed of his or her similarly aged peers but physically less mature than the next level. As a coach, this is a tough spot to be in as you feel the pressure from parents and athlete to always be pushing the limits but what is truly right for the athlete?
In all my experience as a coach, I cannot think of one time this has worked out for the athlete long-term. Long-term is the key word. If you want the athlete to achieve his or her fastest times now as a youth athlete, then there is a good case for pushing the limits but this is not best for the athlete long-term. If you want to see steady progress for many years to come AND for the athlete to continue to find meaning and purpose in the sport, leave the athlete always asking for more.
Why is this though? Every age in an athlete’s development has a specific purpose. Skip a step or refuse to fully develop it, and you will hamstring the athlete long-term. Specific skills, coordination, speed, and strength must be developed during each stage of physical maturity. The workouts I give athletes are largely dependent on where they are in their physical maturity and what specific workout adaptations can be absorbed by their body. Given too early will only lead to burnout and poor results long-term.
So, coaches and parents, allow your kids to develop slowly and master specific levels before moving to the next. Athletes, of all ages, enjoy the process and be patient because patience wins the race long-term.
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