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Three Challenges of the Modern Young Athlete

he majority of our population at 212 Performance is young male athletes between the ages of 13 to 21 years old.  In years of working with, listening to, and observing this population, here are some of the common challenges we’ve discovered they deal with.  

The first would be the Epidemic of Distraction.  I remember the time a couple years ago two of our baseball kids came in late on a Thursday night to get some swings in.  Prior to beginning, they asked if I could take a picture of them; it was “very important” that one of the players post the picture on his Instagram that night at a specific time.  What I figured would be a simple 30 second process turned into over an hour of them fussing over the correct picture; what filter to use and appropriate degrees of sharpness and contrasting effect; what the caption should be; what hash tags, if any, to use; and then after posting, continually refreshing the page to check who had liked it and to ensure it garnered the appropriate number of “likes” within a certain time frame- “It’d have to be taken down Coach, it’s embarrassing otherwise”.  

The younger generation loves social media, and it was impossible to notice both kids were enjoying themselves immensely during this Instagram Iditarod of posting a picture.  However, I couldn’t help but think how much better each athlete would be if they put half the passion and focus into their hitting as they did their post.  Both kids have gone on to enjoy a lot of success and sign with top Division 1 schools, but the fact remains the endless barrage of distraction that is generated by young athletes iPhones is often a considerable problem.  It cuts into their sleep—many insist on answering texts/checking their phone throughout the night rather than turning it off- “But Coach, what if there’s an emergency??”, and countless hours are lost in purposeless browsing – not unlike the adult population actually, according to the most recent studies on workplace inefficiency.  

I honestly believe the typical young modern athlete is more DISTRACTED than LAZY- as is the nature of men every athlete professes to want to be great, but few and far between actually put the work in to be great.  However, in my opinion, why so many young athletes in this generation lack the discipline of doing is not laziness, but distraction. And that distraction is primarily generated by an obsession with their phones and everything going on through it.

The second would be Poor Coaches.  Often our young athletes expect their high school or college coach to be a combination of the teaching abilities of a Phil Jackson, and the motivation of a Vince Lombardi.  The reality of course is that most sport coaches at the lower levels have full time jobs as teachers or in the community.  Coaching is something they do on the side and many perform admirable jobs with the limited time they have.  

There are some great high school coaches in this valley that care about the kids first and take the time to teach and encourage them.  However, a troubling trend seems to be emerging.  I’m not sure if it’s part of the egotistical, me-first trend we’re living in, or it’s simply adults acting like children (as one of our 8th graders asked the other day “I thought adults are mature though”- I had a hard time holding back laughter at that one), but one of the problems that some of our kids run into is low level, low thinking coaches that are more focused on their own ego than the kids themselves.  They’re more concerned about taking credit for any success a kid might have, then helping the kid HAVE success.  Out of this selfish mindset several of our athletes have been harassed and frankly bullied over who their hitting coach is, who their pitching coach is, and where they train.  They are harassed and bullied if they do anything to get better outside their sport coach’s school’s four walls, or small coaching network.  

The reality is that for athletes of any level, it takes a village.  They need good sport coaches to encourage them and teach them sport skill, good specialty coaches to enhance their sport skill further, and a good training facility to enhance their speed and power. They need coaches that can meet their individual needs, not one size fits all cookie cutter approaches and programs. It, of course, should be a symbiotic relationship for everyone involved in helping a young athlete grow- after all, we’re all pulling for the kid, right?  But pathetically enough, that’s often not the case anymore. As life goes on you realize you can never make everyone happy, and standing up to people is often necessary for achieving your goals.  However, it’s much harder as a young athlete to stand up to adult men harassing you.  And sadly, some kids sacrifice their athletic careers on the altar of appeasing someone, rather than doing what’s BEST for THEM. 

The third and last would be Arrogance.  With the popularity of sport increasing, and the explosion of social media, young athletes receive an endless stream of sycophantic praise from many sources, from peers to random adults.  Nowadays adults spend time and energy tweeting at 17 year olds about their recent game, and where they should attend college. It’s also not uncommon anymore for adults to fret over where a “star” 8th grader goes to high school. Add to that many parents having a wildly overoptimistic opinion of their child’s abilities and future, and kids often end up with a high degree of arrogance over low level success.  They become too prideful and satisfied to learn, improve, and be ready for the next step. What we preach at the facility is if you aren’t proving it against the elite of your sport- MLB/NFL/NBA- then stop telling everyone how great you are, shut your mouth, and work to get better.  It’s critical that young athletes shut out all the noise and attention seeking, and stay coachable.  Unfortunately some get so caught up in their current level, they fail to properly prepare for the next one.

Semper Fidelis A. Fenske

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