When dealing with young athletes who train for sport, the goal is always to help every athlete reach their full potential. For some, this may mean a college scholarship and for others, it could mean introducing them to the importance of physical activity that will hopefully carry over into the next phase of their life. If athletic achievement is why you are striving for, there are two ingredients to look for in your child to identify if the activity they are participating in is the right one.
Sport Scientist Dr. Joe Baker calls intrinsic motivation the “currency of athletic performance.” If the child does not display the desire and drive to train hard and practice on their own, they will most likely not reach their full athletic potential. If this same child doesn't look forward to practice and asks, "Do we have to go?", then it may be time to look for a new sport or activity. Often times it is the parents who are providing the motivation. This motivation is known as extrinsic motiviation (external things like giving rewards). It is like the parent who gives their child $1 every time they take the trash out. Over time, that $1 bill isn't going to cut it anymore and will not be as rewarding. That kid is going to want $2. In a perfect world, that child would take the trash out because he or she wants to. The same is true for athletic training. They should want to go to every practice, game, training session, etc. You should not have to bribe them with gifts to get them motivated.
The second key component is Enjoyment. Training and having fun should not be mutually exclusive. If the child already shows the drive to succeed and are intrinsically motivated, they should also be enjoying the process of getting better. This does not mean they must love everything about training (after all, who loves doing sprints after practice?). But, taken as a whole, the overall training experience must be a positive one. Competition and fun do belong together in the same sentence...contrary to what some coaches and parents may think.
If you want to know why your child isn't making improvements in their sport, motivation and enjoyment are two key areas to look for in your child. If he or she is not spending time in the back yard perfecting their swing, shooting hoops until dark, and doing additional work before or after practice, that activity might not be as enjoyable to them as you think. The motivation has to come from the athlete. They have to want to get up early before school to lift weights, condition, or practice skills. The moment an external force (ie parent or coach) makes them do things, is the moment all is lost and the activity isn't as fun as it used to be.
The world doesn't come to an end if your child isn't displaying these characteristics. The kid just might enjoy being on a team, working out regularly, and creating memories that'll last a lifetime. Not every kid will be an elite athlete. It is important to never forget that!
Chris is a Certified Strength & Conditioning Specialist and member of the National Strength & Conditioning Association. He has recently served as a high school football and wrestling coach. Chris loves swinging kettlebells around, watching football and reading books!