The Illusion of Youth Sporting Achievements


Today we decided to write a sad post, a harsh reality that many former agonists have surely experienced on their skin. More than one of us has been an agonist of some discipline once: how many tournaments, how many races, how many meetings and memorials lodge in our past. And some of us will remember, perhaps with a hint of nostalgia, of having been small champions at that time. Despite this maybe today we find ourselves totally out of the sporting landscape, disillusioned by this world that has not kept its promises. But why does this happen? Is there any reproach for the loss of the competitive spirit? Or are the causes to be sought outside?

Let’s start with an analysis of human physiology. From 11-12 years in the body and mind of all children are starting to follow changes, transformations that will continue for the next 5-6 years. The proportions of the body totally change, the muscular masses change and the distribution of body fats changes, the levers are lengthened: a teenage athlete finds himself having to move and maneuver a different body every month, for 5 years. This is not a foregone concept and our child in transformation has no easy life because these changes frighten him. In fact, the bodily transformations and the difficulties in managing the new body, give rise to fears, anxieties, insecurities that destabilize the young athlete a lot. Basically we can say that the child and the adult, even if they bear the same name, live in two different periods and should be considered different people.

What is the point then to play sports as children? Well it’s not like it changes everything, some things remain. In swimming, but the concept also applies to athletics and all other sports, some characteristics and skills acquired and developed by children, if stimulated continuously during growth, are also found in the young adult. For example, articular mobility, speed, and learning of motor gestures are the most developed skills in childhood, and if they are learned and consolidated by children, they remain over time. Children, as we know, are sponges and absorb all the information they can, and every motor stimulus determines tactile and proprioceptive sensations that create new neuronal circuits and increase motor baggage. On the contrary, an adult has much more difficulty learning, and is able to develop better skills such as strength and endurance, since he has the muscular masses and the body levers at the height of their development. It happens very often to find in the pool or in the gym already developed children or adults who have never done sports before, and who show rigidity in the movements, as well as a total lack of coordination. This happens because no proper motor work was done when they were children and there was no continuity in the development of those capacities typical of childhood. And we know how hard and difficult it is for an adult who has never done sport to be able to train and acquire those skills! These concepts are fundamental and are taught in every professional course to become coaches of every sport.

Progetto senza titolo

A winning child will not necessarily become a winning adult, as well as an awkward child and away from the podium at youth competitions, no one can say that he can not become an Olympic champion. Many children win because they are advantaged by a precocious pubertal development and some of them find themselves at 10 years old with already 2 meters of height, with beard and with sons in the stands who are cheering: the evolutionary advantage is clear compared to the others, and it is easy to understand the correlation with the victories. But this should not deceive: things change and will change and everyone will have their own development. And during the development also genetics has its own role: naturally those who have “good” genes will become taller and with ideal physical characteristics for a specific sport, and will always have a little advantage. Those who have parents who are not very tall will remain lower (and may still aspire to become a new Messi … but this is another matter).
At the end of the development you will have the definitive athlete and the more he has characteristics and talent, who managed to cultivate and master that talent with determination and fortitude, and who has worked well with continuity as a child will win. In swimming there are many examples of champions who as children have never won anything: they have always been swimming, maybe they were little crickets as children and growing up they became giants. Naturally they acquired a large motor luggage as a child and only once they became older they managed to use it to the fullest.

The coach of youth categories and parents who bring their child to play sports must be forward-looking. The quality of a path or a job is not judged by looking only at the victories in the short term. However, the victories at youth level often illude and become the main objective of many youth activities because it is difficult to make long-term projects, and because there is little information about it. Unfortunately, there are delusional situations in the swimming world but also in all other sports. Many parents charge the children with the responsibility of winning a medal at any cost, and maybe they do it only to be able to boast with the other parents of how much the child is better than the others. Even many coaches are wrong, especially in football. They think they are Mourinho and their goal is only to win: and while they are trying to win they totally ignore the slowest and most clumsy children, they ignore the diligence of the less good (those who then decide to abandon the sport due to lack of gratification), and they give attention only to the small talent that perhaps has a rebellious character and does not respect the rules (and as a rebel also he will get tired and leave the sport). Many coaches can not understand that while Mourinho trains adult professionals, paid to try to win, in the suburban soccer schools they train children who just want to have fun. They fail to have foresight and do not understand that, in addition to providing a wrong teaching, they are renouncing to cultivate an athlete and a team really motivated, and renounce this to gloat in the victories of a team that plays and wins only with the most skilled ( for now) children.

So the heart of youth activities is the development of a baggage of movements as large as possible, and this can be done by providing the most stimuli to young athletes. Of course if you work well and if you are dealing with small talents you can also stumble into youth victories: medals and trophies can do a lot for the competitive spirit and motivation. But there is a difference between working to become a complete athlete and casually winning on the way, and working to win. At youth level the goal should never be to win, but rather to structure the work in stages with races that act as a check point, and stage by stage we must organize and reshape the path, with the ultimate goal of having a full adult athlete.

We trainers, we parents, we athletes must never delude ourselves for a victory, especially if it is at a youth level. Let’s set ourselves long-term goals, let’s work to achieve them with determination, and one step at a time we will reach the goal. Who won as a child and now does not win anymore must not lose heart: life offers us millions of ways, you have not wasted or lost. You have probably been ruined by the people who were close to you, or probably the path you have chosen is another. But never say never, sport is always around the corner and life is unpredictable. Who knows that he is not preparing a new race for you one day!

Categorie: English Blog


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