Help young athletes build skills

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When I was a boy, physical education class was a humiliating place.

Humiliating because a number of different competitive games began with teams. Usually, team "captains" were chosen by my phys ed teacher.

Now these weren't just "ordinary" captains. These team captains were the kinds of kids that had biceps before they could say the alphabet and who I idolized because they were shaving in the morning alongside their dads. The savagery of choosing sides began with each captain selecting a member of the class to be on his team -- no doubt suggesting a rather primitive form of male genetic selection.

In the end, there were usually one or two kids left, most often those that didn't thrive on the sports field. Even at that period of my life, I often thought how lousy it must have made them feel.

Yes folks: I, too, was a late bloomer. Although I was not at the top of the selection list, I fortunately hovered somewhere in the middle. Cursed by wickedly big feet (they're still big) that made it sound like I was wearing swim fins when I ran, and shoulder blades that chronically stuck out like chicken wings, I was not the poster boy for the well-chiseled future star quarterback.

I did, however have a dad who saw things, both tangible and intangible, that encouraged me. Every parent, coach, mentor and friend can be an ally to the "athlete in waiting."

The most important thing to understand about the young athlete is that their body is still undergoing not only muscular changes but neural or brain-based changes as well.

The ability to translate a movement-based situation and then react to it is not only a matter of the thought process, but nervous systems that are still not fully formed. Certain nerves have not even completed their connections to the muscles that they activate.

I frequently have parents and coaches who approach me about helping "Johnny" run faster or move more effectively. There is absolutely no doubt that there are techniques and skills that can help a young boy or girl move faster, but sometimes a young athlete's greatest ally and friend is time.

As parents, we are so focused on moving our athlete through this period of adjustment when sometimes the emphasis should be more on helping them perform within it and then enjoying what happens when heredity, time and physical maturity take their course.

I know as a fact that the list of Olympic-level athletes, professional athletes and successful college athletes who were "too small, too thin, too slow or too fat" as children is quite long.

If a younger athlete is told enough times they are slow, or chosen last with enough frequency they will begin to not only believe it, but practice a set of behaviors to make that statement true.

Part of mentoring any athlete or child trying to enhance their coordination is being the cheerleader and finding things about the athlete that immerses them in the movement components that they do well.

I was terrible in the straight-ahead sprint as a kid, but my dad noticed I changed direction well, and ultimately encouraged me to play sports where directional changes were a part of success.

In games of tag, I was never very fast, but possessed stamina uncharacteristic of kids my age. So when it was my turn to be "it," I would keep my opponents in my sights and simply run them down until they couldn't run anymore, which made tagging them that much easier.

We all can be an asset to the young athletes who think being chosen last makes them less capable. Our job as parents, coaches, motivators and friends, is to really analyze the young athlete and find out what they do well. The last step is having them do as much of that skill as possible.

Bill Victor is the owner of Victor Fitness System Professional Fitness Trainers, Flashpoint Athletic Speed & Agility Specialists, and Performance Nutrition Consultants. He can be reached at billv@victorfitsystems.com, 360-750-0815 and online at www.theflashpoint.org and www.victorfitnesssystems.com.