Jan 29, 2015
Players, Parents, and Training Priorities

ryanjohnson-head.jpgBy Ryan Johnson

Sometimes parents do more harm than good when helping their kids pursue dreams in athletics. When this happens, Wayzata (Minn.) High School Head Strength and Conditioning Coach Ryan Johnson says it’s important to speak up and remind everyone of what’s important.

Growing up in a small rural community, it was a rarity for a local athlete to compete at the collegiate level after high school. My hometown sent a couple of kids to local colleges in a handful of sports, but was in no way a feeder program.

Much of that had to do with the fact that we were such a small school that no one had the time to commit to one sport full time. We were all expected to do our share in one sport and change our gear for the next one. At the end of our senior year, our athletic career was usually over and done with and it was time to go to college and get on with the rest of our life.

I was able to go on and play four years of college football–one of only a handful of kids from my community to do so. I played community college ball and then went to a small NCAA Division III liberal arts college. Along the way I met some amazing people, including my wife, and made contacts who have helped me get where I am today. If I had to judge my life on the sports scale of wins and losses, I would say I won for sure.

Here at Wayzata, where the school is larger than my entire hometown, many of the athletes and the parents have a very different perspective on the viability of participating at the next level of athletics than they did in my town. The emphasis around here seems to be to play on a team at the highest level, no matter the cost. There have even been situations that kids would rather walk on at the Division I level then take a full ride to a Division I-AA or D-II school. I can’t believe people would turn down all of that money! But more often than not, those kids who walk on, end up walking off almost as quickly.

This desire to make it to the top of the top effects everything from the way athletes play on the field to their training. Athletes are now not necessarily training with a main goal of earning a scholarship over winning a state title. This isn’t always the case, but I have been seen a lot more of this in recent years.

In fact, a couple of years ago we had a young man win a state title for our football team on Friday night, and the next morning his parents had him at a combine trying to showcase his talents to potential college recruiters. We tell our athletes here at Wayzata to train hard, compete hard, and as our teams progress, individuals will gain exposure along the way. We tell them this, because it is what we hear from the recruiters themselves.

For smaller programs in smaller locations, athletes may need to gain some additional exposure by going to combines and camps, but I think we need to get our priorities in check. It blows me away that an athlete will wake up and work out the day after hoisting a trophy and that kids and parents care about 40-yard dash times over hard work, discipline, and commitment. I would rather have a higher overall number of athletes that play and train for the love of the game than a small number of all stars.

I have no problems with kids having dreams and working hard to achieve them, but what I don’t like is when the parents become overbearing in their kids’ dreams. Parents who organize training and coaching in addition to what trainers and coaches are already doing can lead to a dangerous over-training situation.

We sometimes have to sit parents down and tell them they are pushing their kids too far and need to back off. The parents are usually receptive to that idea and the common response from them is that they just want their kids to be successful. I explain to them that we are very careful with our training programs. Depending on the athlete or team, we have a year-long training cycle in mind and organizing additional training on the side could really interfere with the overall goals of our teams.

I can speak from the heart when I say I beam with pride when I see my own children succeed on their youth teams, and at times, I see them starring in high school and beyond. However, coaches and parents need to realize that at the end of the day it has to be their child’s dream and not their own. There is no substitute for hard work–whether it be the classroom or the weight room, but there is a cap to what we should ask of the athletes.

You can reach Ryan Johnson at: [email protected].

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