When to stop pushing your athletic child

When it comes to encouraging student athletes, parents and coaches walk a thin line between pushing too much or too little. In either case, there’s a risk that young athletes may not reach their full potential. So how do you strike the right balance for each child?

That’s best achieved through close observation of each athlete’s physical condition and mental state, says Tavio Henson, a strength and conditioning coach at Indiana University Health Sports Performance. “As parents and coaches, we have to take care that we aren’t pushing kids until they burn out mentally and physically,” Henson says.

Young athletes often pay less attention to body mechanics when they get mentally exhausted. Without enough rest and recovery time, they are more prone to injuries. “I’ve seen more rotator cuff, shoulder and knee injuries than ever,” he says. “I believe it’s because we are working kids too hard, too early.” 

Henson says kids don’t have the same capacity as adults for noticing when their motivation and performance drops, so parents and coaches need to help them realize when it’s time to back off.

Four common signs of overtraining

  • Performance goes backward
  • An easy drill seems taxing
  • Nagging pain
  • Lack of motivation to train

Motivation, performance and confidence can also be affected by harsh criticism. That’s why teaching kids how to work with coaches and deal with criticism can be a big part of helping them grow. “Our model here is a little different,” he says. “We try to care for people and all the other things fall in place.”

Henson is a big believer in coaching kids as individuals––from the inside out. He says too many kids have their identities tied to athletic performance. Playing sports with that mentality can be an emotional roller coaster that makes life miserable. “I like to help kids get better in their sport through reinforcement and corrective training, and also by encouraging them to get their self-worth from something other than how they perform in sports.”

To support your child’s participation in sports, contact IU Health Sports Performance at (317) 848-5867 for a customized training program.

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