In an ever-changing world, it can be said that families are busier than ever. As a result, children who engage in sport can be drawn into this. Seasons get longer, pre seasons get earlier and sports demand more and more of those who engage. So how do we find a balance and ensure young people don’t burn out from sport? Or worse, fall out of love with sport?

In organised youth football settings around the world, it’s not uncommon to hear stories about demands for kids to specialise younger, or requirements to train longer and more often being commonplace. However, more is not always better – the quality of the training environment is as important as the hours on the grass.

We also know that pick up games and street football (at least in Western culture) are less frequent than they were in times gone by, so informal play might be something that kids are less familiar with and this can have an impact on movement capability. I am currently coaching in New Zealand in school and club environments, and occasionally working within youth national team programmes. The expectations on players are high, the volume of training is perhaps greater than kids in top academy programmes overseas, but are the players better for it? I’m not sure they are.

We need to remember whose game it is, why kids play sport. If that means allowing growing players to occasionally skip a session, indulge in different sports or simply enjoy free play in our environments, it might be for long term gain.

Three things to consider.

  1. Give some thought to the purpose of youth sport. Does your environment include a focus on joy and social connection as well as technical or tactical development?
  2. Do you understand the benefits of variety and young kids playing multiple sports both from a skill acquisition and social perspective?
  3. Are you working with youth players who are impacted by growth and maturation, and do you understand how this can impact performance?

One thing for you to try this week.

If you haven’t yet, ask your players what other sports they play, how many sessions a week they have and consider if you can bring multi-sport into the football context through warm ups or games.

One critical resource on the topic.

Check out this Masterclass Webinar replay on Physical Development of Youth Players with Dan Cooke and Dr. Craig Harrison. We discuss physical loading, athlete development, managing fatigue and more.

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