Raising Resilient Athletes


Essential Skills: Reaching Your Athletic Potential

Andrea_henkel_burke_Essential Skills Needed: Reaching Your Athletic Potential

I’m talking a lot about general fitness as the best and most important basis for future success, but young athletes definitely want to work on specific skills, that’s why they choose their sport.

Young athletes are in the great position that they are usually allowed to learn and define a skill and aren’t expected to be skilled like a professional athlete. This can be helpful or not. Fortunately, some skills are easier to excel than others. Unfortunately, those skills that seem easier to develop often don’t get the same respect and attention anymore when the athlete reaches a certain level. This mistake can catch up later. Just like little things can make a big difference, basic skills are part of the development.

Young athletes getting good at what they are doing. Learning a skill is a process. When the process stops, the skill is manifest at that level. This might be a great level for the moment and one that needs to be solid before moving on, but when too much time is passed and too many moves in a certain pattern are repeated, it can be difficult to override slightly manifested skills. Waiting until the next step is needed may not be the easiest path in the long run. 

An example can be a ski technique. When a young athlete is fast, why would they need to work on technique? To make it easier to keep up later on! I know this because I didn’t get much technique training when I was young and I know I reached limits, I could not totally compensate with physical strength and power. On the other hand I still was able to ski faster than some athletes with a much better technique, who didn’t have the physical skills.

So all is needed; some can outway others, but when it comes to a simple skill, I highly encourage to take it seriously and as a valued piece of the puzzle. Let’s not skip a step or underestimate any part of the whole picture.

Of course, it is not possible to work on everything all of the time. Athletic movements are very complex, just like a skill. Even when a technique or exercise doesn´t seem like a big challenge, it can become one. When athletes are tempted to take shortcuts in the process, not because they are lazy but because it’s working at the time, it’s important to have a good support team. It doesn’t mean that young athletes already need to have all the resources, equipment and the same setup professional athletes have. The skill itself is not developed until those resources and equipment are used the way they are meant to be. It’s not or not only about having them!

What does an athlete need to develop a skill? Whether it´s a technique, speed, an element, throwing or kicking a ball, a skill is not something that is done in perfection the first time we try mastering it. Tools can help, but luckily, that’s not all. Developing a skill needs intention!

Athletic success doesn’t exclusively depend on athletic skills. The characteristics a young athlete has or develops are at least the same important.

To develop athletic skills, it needs personal skills and lots of passion. I already mentioned that patience and work ethic as characteristics for development. Patience might be more important for parents and coaches. Which inspiring young athlete has patience? Luckily, often, they think they are already at the highest skill level possible, so it doesn’t really need patience from this end. This is actually great because passionate athletes usually are not the most patient people. But there are other challenges that come with that. Young athletes need to keep busy with a variety of activities and not only one specific movement. Not only would they find a way around to developing a specific skill, but there is also the risk that the sport gets old and they lose interest.

Let me get one more time back to the work ethic and why it is so important. Physical talent is an advantage in the early years, if not already in Highschool then no later as in College, work ethic will catch up. How often do we hear: “He or she would have done great if they would have continued?” Well, doing “the work” is part of the game. Great athletes have both physical talent and work ethic. But when we are talking skills, we are talking about something that can be developed. The very physically talented athlete may develop a skill faster. Still, the one who has the talent to work hard will catch up and may even have developed the skill on a higher level because the process had to be more intentional.

If you ask me what skill of all the skills has the most value - it’s the ability to work and train, no matter what the circumstances are.

But who decides in the end, what level of skill a young athlete needs? I would say there are a couple of answers. One critical point is the competitors. When there is a strong generation, kids are forced to uplevel their skills faster. But this will also come easier. Being in a group with great athletes offers a lot for everyone. The best ones push themself because they want to stay the best ones and the others push themself because they want to catch up.

That’s why a very good way to develop skills in young athletes is to expose them to other athletes. A good group offers everything and everyone can learn from it. The athletic skill, speed, technique, passion, work ethic and all the pieces. And the best thing: It is fun! Having fun and passion doing all of this is key. And I mean having internal fun to train.

Do you have a Dream? Keep going towards it :)


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