I am often asked my opinion on things that involve football. The questions range from how to find which player position best suits a child to who I think will win the Super Bowl, and pretty much everything in between. I have many thoughts on the game, on coaching, and on improving performance, so I am starting Passing Thoughts to share some of those thoughts. I welcome your comments and conversation. –KR

Saturday, December 15, 2012

The Off-Season Dilemma

Now that the youth football season has concluded, I am frequently asked by parents how much their children should be doing in the off-season. Many people look at the off-season as a chance to continue their child's development and growth in a particular sport. Some parents want their kids to focus on specific development in one sport, while others have kids who participate in multiple sports. What is the best approach?

It depends somewhat on a child's age and interests, but I typically don't recommend kids focus on just one sport. I encourage parents to try and have their kids involved in any sport or physical activity year-round. If they are not in an organized athletic program, then doing some training may be a good option. The most important thing is keeping kids active! Staying active will help continue to strengthen muscles as their bodies continue to grow, plus it will continue to develop their coordination. Multi-sport athletes will gain strength in new muscles and develop skills that were not the focus during football season, but that will only help them as they continue to grow. Keeping kids active is necessary to their growth as athletes and to a healthier, happier life.

Lots of kids go from season to season in three or four sports, and as long as the athlete is enjoying the participation and is learning the correct fundamentals, then keep going! If there isn't a sport that is interesting or available for your kids, then training during the off-season can help with basic fundamentals. Kids can improve their footwork, hand-eye coordination, reads and reactions, and overall physical health. For most kids, it makes little difference whether they train, wrestle or play basketball. The most important aspect is just that they remain active.

Some parents are anxious to determine which position their son will play and want position-specific training and development for very young athletes. I would caution that some kids do not get settled on a position until college, and it is best to keep your options open when it comes to determining a specific position.

The other caution is for parents to take cues from their kids on their level of involvement in sports. If at any time training or other sports are not fun for kids, then we as parents and coaches should not force it upon them. It has been my experience when kids have an activity forced upon them, they will not try as hard and may develop a dislike for the entire sport or anything athletic. We need to remember that, at times, kids just need to be kids.

Motivation will come easily when the athlete has a sense of enjoyment and entitlement. Kids need to know why they are practicing or training and what benefits can come from this. So educate them about the benefits of staying active and developing their physical strength and skills. Provide gentle encouragement for kids to stay active or train in their sport(s) of interest, and when they have fun and see the rewards, they will choose to pursue those activities all on their own.

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