Let’s Get Organized-Talent Development Thoughts

Let’s Get Organized-Talent Development Thoughts
by Dennis A. Johnson, EdD

I recently organized and administered a coaching education program in conjunction with a summer wrestling camp in a local Pennsylvania community.
There were several youth coaches in attendance who raised concerns they found difficult in terms of conducting practices and program administration in
general.  They struggled with many of the realities that come with coaching a youth sport.  For instance…How to keep kids on task? How to make practice work for a group that has participants ranging in age from five to twelve?  How to deal with parent expectations?  All great questions, however, the most alarming concern that was brought forward had to do with retention rate (i.e., wrestlers quitting the sport before they entered the junior high program-grade 7). One particular coach noted their program may have 50 participants in their youth program and yet be lucky to have 2 or 3 come out in junior high.

We analyzed the timeline of their program and although I am speaking from Pennsylvania, it mirrors the schedule of programs in many other areas of the
country.  This youth program began in November, similar to the start of the scholastic season and the participants continued for a month after the
completion of the high school season in order to compete in Junior Olympic state tournaments.  That is over five months of practice and sitting in gyms on
weekend’s waiting and watching competition-for children!  Research indicates that this certainly is not the best approach in terms of talent development for
young people.  The first question regarding talent development (TD) is; does one want to be a 10-year-old state champion, a scholastic state champion, NCAA champion, or possibly even an Olympic or World champion?  If the answer is the higher level goal, then let’s look at what the talent development research has found.  Entry or the initial phase of TD (i.e., youth wrestling ages 5-11) should find the child trying a variety of sports and the focus should be on having FUN and developing fundamental skills (1).  Summary research results “emphasizes the importance of children NOT specializing in sports too early, of focusing on fun and development early, and having supportive but not overbearing parents (p. 551)” (2).

In sum, youth wrestling should find kids rolling around on the mats having fun!  And certainly not for a five month season but rather for a 6-8 week period
which would allow kids to sample other sports like gymnastics, swimming, indoor soccer, hockey, and so on.  However above all else, the wrestling experience MUST BE FUN!!!!!

Check out the Youth Coaches Resource Manual at NWCA for more information.

“Find a way and make it happen”

Gould, D., Dieffenbach, K., & Moffett, A. (2002).  Psychological talent and its development in Olympic champions.  Journal of Applied Sport
Psychology, 177-210.

Weinberg, R.S., & Gould, D. (2015).  Foundations of sport and exercise psychology. Champaign IL:  Human Kinetics. NWCA Sport Blog< Youth Program Wrestling Coaches:  Let’s Get Organized-Talent Development Thoughts

Dennis A. Johnson, EdD, Associate Professor-Jamestown Community College (SUNY)
Former wrestling coach, author of Wrestling Drills for the Mat and Mind

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