Since the national youth & junior triathlon season has wound down, I have had many conversations with other high performance coaches throughout the country about the current state of youth triathlon and youth sport in general. I've also gotten to have conversations with individual parents and athletes about their athletes' experiences over the past season, and where we saw positive growth and where we need improvement. Now is the time to ask questions and consider solutions. How, as a youth and junior elite coach, do I teach athletes (and parents) that short-term performance and success can be fleeting, that it's more important to be a decent person and a good leader, that long-term success in our sport is not guaranteed just because you're a "fast" junior? Does the culture we have developed, not just in triathlon, but in youth sport in general, allow for that conversation?
It's easy to find articles, blogs, social media posts and others asking "What is wrong with youth sports?" It's a bit disheartening that this is such a common question, and everyone has an opinion. I have a few myself. But it doesn't fix the issue, though I do appreciate that it opens up the door for the conversation to start.
That being said, I was reading the following (incredibly inspirational) story about a young man's experience as an athlete, and I thought to myself "what exactly is inspirational about this story?"
Is it his Number 1 ranking? His world title?
It's really not. As a coach, and as parents, I think the things that inspire us are his perseverance, his positive attitude in the face of adversity, his ability to find joy in challenging situations. You could take the other stuff out of this article, and we would all still be blown away, and want those things for our own athletes. So why are podiums and rankings so important? Even when we say they aren't really... they still are. Brushing off a "bad" performance or a "bad" year seems to be increasingly difficult (putting aside the fact, for now, that those are actually the best performances and the best years because the athlete and the coach actually learn something from them). But it shouldn't be. What if our focus switched to reflect the things that are really inspiring from Conner's story? What would that look like for our athletes, for our teams, for youth sport throughout our country?
Let's change the conversation from "what's wrong with youth sport" to "how do we get more of what's right?" Let's have a conversation about this after practice, or the next time you drop by the Playtri store. Let's take a break from talking about performances and discuss our athlete's well-being, their mental and emotional development, their other hobbies, and how we can use triathlon to make them into a leader in their community. Let's talk about how triathlon can make them a better and happier person, and how we as their coaches can be a part of that journey.
Have a fantastic Friday.