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1. Talk about it – Playing an entire season is a long commitment – especially for your children – explain the time it will take and discuss their goals and your goals for the season.
2. Don’t be afraid to fail – Coaches will ask your players to push themselves to get better and learn – failure is part of the process.
3. Get ready to compete – Players who come to practice to learn but are ready to compete, even in drills, have more fun and get more out of practice.
4. Come ready to learn – help your child understand that the coaches are their to help them improve.
5. Be grateful – teach your child how to be thankful and respectful to the coach – Parents need to lead by example.

The following is what has helped me to help my son and daughter to fall in love with playing sports to the point that they both play 3 different sports each year in High School.

Take a Look at the Journey

We live in a society where many parents are trying to get their child every little advantage to help them become the best athlete in their area, earn a college scholarship and maybe even play in the pros. The bad news is that players can only improve within the limitations of athletic ability, natural talent, determination, size, aggressiveness and coachability. Good news, there are many places where players can go to get the instruction needed to help them along in their sports education. What parents and coaches can do is to help them to learn the fundamentals of the game, which develops confidence and create a passion for the sport so they will want to put in the hours and hours of effort that it takes to succeed both on and off the field.

Here is a plan to give your child age 3–6 the best chance to learn the game and fall in love with playing sports.

Enjoy and Focus on fun!
If you really want your young child to play sports, the first step is to get a ball and start playing with them. The fastest way for a young child to learn is by modeling and playing with their parent and friends. So get a small sports balls and start kicking, throwing, catching and hitting. Do not worry too much about any technique, rather help them to just love the ball, running and the excitement of throwing/kicking/hitting the ball.

Here is a plan to give your child the best chance for improvement in youth sports from the ages of 7-17.

Have Realistic Expectations
If the parents are 5’2 and 5’5, not real fast or in shape, it is not realistic to expect their child to be 6’ 5 with strength or quickness. Or if the child is not blessed with amazing speed or strength it may not be good to expect a miracle. Every child has an incredible array of talents, but many are not useful in sports. The parents job is to find out what they can do to help their child reach their true potential, not try to live up to unrealistic goals. It is okay to dream but it is a good idea to have a back up plan just in case.

Display a love for the Game
If your child is going to spend a good portion of their childhood working on their sports skills, make sure that they truly love the game! Parents should realize what they are getting themselves into as far as being the parent of a young athlete. You will spend countless hours on the road driving to sit on fields while your child grows as a player and becomes accomplished as an individual. If you and your child both possess a love for the game and have the determination to improve then you are in the right place to pursue excellence in sports and we at the National Academy of Athletics would be honored to help that process.

Be Selective
There are tons of opportunities for players to get involved in traveling teams. These teams are a big part of the process but they are not the only solution. Players and parents should look at all of the options, interview the coaches look at the schedule of games and practices then decide which will best fit the players level of commitment and position. Often, camps are more helpful than teams. Many camps are designed to help players develop the individual skills it takes to play more confidently while teams tend to focus on games and winning and losing.

FUNDAMENTAL SKILLS             7-12 years old

These years are important for players to develop their understanding their chosen sport and a love for the game. They should be spending hours working on the fundamental skills of the game. It is more important that players focus on footwork, balance, hand-eye coordination, proper mechanics, ball handling and passing than playing 500 full field games with officials and crowds.

Players should take the time to learn how to confidently play with the ball in their hands and do the individual skills correctly. Playing too many games at this age can be counter-productive. These young players need to learn the value of proper fundamentals and teamwork. This will help them succeed both on and off the field.

During the school year players should try to be a part of school or other league teams if they are available. During these teams most coaches will focus on team skills but the players should not lose sight of their personal goal that is to also improve their individual skills and confidence. It is important that they learn about competition but make sure that it is kept in perspective.

During the summer months, players should attend two or three local summer camps as commuter campers (5 days in duration). If they like multiple different sports, great, have them attend one or two weeks of each sport. Variety is important to keep their interest. If the player is mature enough and has the interest in a resident camp then parents may want to consider that option as well.

 GAMES and EXPOSURE         13-17 years old

This is the time where players will need to get as much on-field game experience as possible. They shouldn’t stray away from practicing the fundamental skills but they need to feel the game and experience the pressure associated with competition. Be sure to keep the wins and losses in perspective but the player needs to test their skills against players of equal or greater abilities.

As players play junior high and high school the stakes begin to get higher. Recruiting services start to rank players and predict what level of college basketball or football they might be able to compete. Many school coaches will try to dictate what their players can and cannot do during the off-season. Work with the school coach to see what they are expecting from the player and research what other options there are in the area. Choose a traveling team that suits the players’ style of play and that assures them of playing time.

Above all, make sure that the player is comfortable with the coach of the team. A coach who understands that their role is to help develop the player is preferable to one who is impatient and driven by wins notoriety and tournament titles associated with their name. At 14, players will want to attend a resident summer camp and begin looking into all-star, competition or advanced development camps. They should increase the number of games they play.

By the time they are playing in high school players should be able to know what positions they will be playing and they should spend more time developing their skills specific to that position. Its’ also time to start a nutrition, strength and conditioning program and begin to develop stamina and muscle structure to compete at the higher levels. Players who are successful at the high school level and beyond possess good fundamental skills they are mentally tough and physically strong. They rise to the challenge and are willing to work even harder to meet the demanding needs of performing at the highest level they can.

Just a reminder… Very few athletes actually get the opportunity to receive an athletic scholarship to attend a college and even less go on to play professionally. Parents should use sports to teach their child the importance of hard work on the court, at home and in the classroom. If players are mentally sharp they will have a better chance of succeeding in life as well as sports.

Remember, results aren’t the criteria for success.
It’s the effort made for achievement that is most important.
John Wooden, Basketball Hall of Fame

I truly hope you are blessed to have your child want to play sports for the long ride rather than burn out at a young age – I remind parents often – this journey is a marathon not a sprint. Enjoy the ride!

Coach Aaron