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The Performance Life

Let's Stop Trying to Raise the Next Tiger Woods

This is a video on how NOT to develop young athletes. We learned about it today in a newsletter from LiveStrong.com—only they appear to present it in all seriousness as an instructional how-to for raising superstars given the title, "How to teach kids to play golf." 

While we certainly don't intend to bash LiveStrong or this coach, we had to share the video with you as an example of what's wrong with youth sports.

Here’s the problem: Most parents and coaches don't truly understand the complexity of what they're doing wrong. (And most sites that deliver this information don't get it either.) I don't mean to excuse them or vilify them at all, but it's a lack of understanding regarding neurological, mental and emotional development that has gotten us to where we are in youth sports.

From an 'x's and o's' perspective, the teaching this golf pro is trying to do is both a moot point and entirely destructive from a future developmental perspective. At Matthew's age, the key ingredient in athletic development is free play. Experience by doing. Learning via attempting.

This trial and error process of experimental movement is critical in creating what I call “Athletic Intelligence.” Not unlike school, when we over-quantify what it is we want kids to do, we don't allow their central nervous system to establish a frame of reference for understanding the pathology of 'why' something works the way it does.

That's why elementary school is informal from a strict studying perspective. Teachers provide lessons and framework, but then allow students to experiment with finding results. That process is imperative in building a level of cognitive functioning that allows for more complex areas of study to be understood in the future. Supplant the above example with sporting skills and the facts remain the same.

But there are a host of other issues here both mentally and physically.

For example, saying things like, “And that's how you’re going to say your name to your fans...” Matthew responds favorably and with vigor, which to an uneducated eye seems as though he is grasping the concept and buying in to the message. This is completely wrong.

He does not have the intellectual or emotional reasoning to fully understand what the coach is trying to say. Matthew's reaction is merely Pavlovian—he's learned to link the two events. When he answers with vigor, he receives positive praise and reinforcement from his coach. Watch the video. His coach responds with a small hug and an affirmative voice. There is no depth in understanding here. The human condition is such that we seek pleasure. Via linking, Matthew has figured out how to get it.

Physically, watch the last ball Matthew hits. The coach gives a cue asking Matthew to end up on his back toe. That one coaching cue resulted in the worst of the three attempts. You could tell that Matthew was over-compensating to that one cue and didn't truly understand how to make it happen. All the coach accomplished there was providing Matthew's nervous system with a 'don't do it this way' attempt.

Kids need to be given general ideas of how to perform an athletic skill and then be left to figure it out. Athletic Intelligence is created that way. The human body is smarter than you. With the right kind of stimulus, it will always find the best and most economic way of accomplishing a task.

Brian Grasso is the founder and CEO of the International Youth Conditioning Association. Learn more at iyca.org.

Tags: Golf, Outdoor Recreation, Youth Fitness, Family