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Its a popular tactic of coaches: find an eager and enthusiastic child who is indeed developing and ‘sell’ to the parents that greater and greater commitment is required because… you know… that kid of yours – so the coach says – has the potential to go all the way… to the National or Olympic level!

First off… what kid – with proper coaching, support and training – doesn’t have the potential? Thank you Captain Obvious for… the obvious.

Second off… if the immeasurable potential of a child is obvious, what is a coach truly saying (or selling) when they say that your child has the potential to go “all the way”? In sports such as hockey, football and baseball where the payoff to be signed to the major leagues is in the millions, parents listen to this ‘sage’ advice coming from a coach as authentic, and as a clue that their child stands out and has ‘more’ potential than other children. Meanwhile, parents are simply failing to realize that the typical coach says this line to every parent because their focus is not coaching kids to their potential, but gouging parents to their financial potential.

The sales tactic is happening younger and younger and younger to the point that parents are investing to the tune of tens of thousands of dollars into the athletic potential of their child before their child is even 10. The evidence is seen in the growing financial commitment required to join a team or simply train in a sport and also in the worst possible way: by the number of young athletes undergoing ‘popular’ surgeries – such as the Tommy John for aspiring baseball pitchers – in hopes that it will increase their chances of making it to the big leagues.

So what can we learn from the RBC Training Ground concept?

That identifying athlete readiness for National or Olympic level competition prior to the age of 14 is unreliable and in many cases invalid.

Point: if your child is under the age of 14 and your coach, or worse your sports organization (e.g. SNC re: Summer McIntosh) is already pronouncing your child as Canada’s next superstar… they are blowing smoke up your arse because if athlete readiness for international levels of competition were predictive at that age then the RBC Training Ground program would be accepting them younger.

Parents,

If your child is nowhere close to the age of 14, and your coach/team is pushing your child into competition claiming that the ‘results’ from these competitions are in some way an indication of your child’s potential is… a pile of lil pots o’gold at the end of rainbows, alongside a herd of unicorns that you are being sold. Early results are in no way an indication of future potential, if anything I would argue that the opposite is true. Early results often are future results pulled forward all for the purpose of the coach promoting themselves as an amazing coach, and not for the long term benefit of your child or your child’s potential. How your child does at the age of 8, 9, 10, even 12 is meaningless!

There is reason to the LTAD model being a decade long.

There is reason to the RBC Training Ground not accepting athletes younger than 14.

In reality, results at an early age can be severely counterproductive to a child’s future as early results without an appropriate connection to the work those results required yields a child that grows into a young adult who believes in the fairytale of ‘natural talent’ and ‘born that way’. Failing to connect their early results with work, these children are at risk of failing to translate their early childhood involvement in sport into adult life. Parents recall the early mornings, the driving to training, to out of town competitions, and to the hours their child spent training… but if the child does not connect all of that to their own competition results… then the lessons that sport provides are lost.

Child athletes who fail to connect work with results, grow up thinking that everything else should come as easily as their results in sport. Problem is few things do, and without the understanding of how ‘work’ played into their early successes, these children grow up into young adults who do not understand the value of work: they do not understand that they were ‘not good’ before they ‘got good’ in sport.

What most coaches today fail to understand, and why many fail to adhere to the LTAD model, is that coaches and sport organizations are focused almost exclusively on the physical development of an athlete. To a coach, and to a sports organization like SNC or SO, if an athlete can ‘make the qualifying times’ to them that is all they see as needed in order to allow an athlete to compete at that level.

But athletes are not one-dimensional beings, they are not machines that simple execute a sport and then turn off.

What ignorant coaches and ignorant sport organization bureaucrats fail to comprehend is that the LTAD model allows not just for physical development, but the mental and emotional development and maturity required for an athlete to not only compete and survive competing at National or International levels, but the skill set to thrive handling not only the results of competing at such levels, but equally the consequences.

Far too many young athletes are thrown into competition too young having expectations of podiums inappropriately placed on them and then without the mental and emotional maturity to deal with both, they end up destroyed by debilitating pre-performance anxiety or post-performance depression. You can read one such story in the blog titled “A Dream Shattered – the Elaine Tanner story”.

Canada’s own Penny Oleksiak has openly expressed the challenges she encountered by first becoming Canada’s most decorated Olympian, and secondly the expectations that were thrust on her as a result. In hindsight, perhaps Penny was physically ready to compete at the 2016 Rio Games, but there is clear reason to believe that Penny was not mentally or emotionally ready. But to hell with that… Penny made Olympic qualifying times, send her straight to Rio!

For coaches and sport organizations financially incentivized by “Own the Podium” (i.e. medal results), the long term mental and emotional well-being of an athlete is an issue neither coach or sports organization bureaucrat are around to care about (or paid to care about)… so its off to the races for younger and younger athletes.  Meanwhile, we are hearing a steady and growing stream of athletes coming forward expressing the reality of mental and emotional abuses that they had to endure in order to be “on a team”, or to train with a particular coach. Coaches who adhered to their culture created by their sport organization of pushing athletes to their limits at any cost are reprimanded, banned, even criminally investigated, meanwhile sport organization bureaucrats turn their backs acting as if they had and have nothing to do with the culture that has destroyed so many young Canadians.

Athletes, and parents… few coaches truly care and IMO there is no evidence of sport organization bureaucrats caring about the long term well-being of athletes. Its up to you to stand up for yourself or your child, to draw boundaries around what is appropriate for you or your child in terms of training and especially in terms of competition. If threatened with being thrown off the team, do not fear… any athlete who is to make it to International competition will find their path. Sometimes it will be by competing for another country, sometimes it will be by competing in another sport, but there is always a way. Do not allow yourself or your child to become another ‘used, abused and disposed of’ athlete.