Early Sport Specialization: Getting Them To Listen – Brett Klika

Early sport specialization has been a hot topic for years, and it doesn’t seem to be going anywhere.  As strength and conditioning coaches, it’s baffling when we see parents and coaches embracing the notion of early sport specialization despite the mountains of data, expert opinion, and well- reviewed evidence highlighting the downfalls.

Our heart breaks when youngsters in these situations get injured or depart from sports and physical activity altogether. The last thing we want to have to say is “We told you so.”

But, well…. “We told you so.”

Despite us “telling” parents, coaches, and our local communities about the importance of long term skill development and a well- rounded approach to athleticism, it feels like many don’t listen until it’s too late. Overcoming this communication breakdown is essential for youth strength and conditioning coaches if we are going to truly create a positive impact on the kids in our community.

How do we get the world of youth athletics to not only hear our message, but embrace it?

I discovered this communication disconnect early in my career directing the youth athletic program at Todd Durkin’s Fitness Quest 10 in San Diego. I would send kids home with printed manifestos on the importance of long term athletic development. I would share the latest research and training paradigms with coaches and parents during team meetings and “parent night” promotions.

Despite some success, I quickly realized that the volume of information provided was not the limiting factor in creating change. It wasn’t until I changed the delivery method that I was able to actually impact more parents, coaches, and teams.

The overwhelm of daily life leaves adults with a limited capacity for absorbing new information. With the opinions, recommendations, and even outright facts we hear every day, we have to apply a filter for what we trust, understand, and believe to be relevant. It’s essential we keep these three components in mind when talking with parents, coaches, and other influencers in the community.

Get Them to Trust Your Message
Obviously, parents wouldn’t let their children work with us if they didn’t trust us. However, trust is hierarchical. When it comes to information, a parent may trust what we say more than someone on the street, but the family doctor, a former or current pro athlete, or someone they hold in “celebrity” regard is going to invoke their greatest level of attention.

If this isn’t you yet, it’s important to find out where the parents and coaches you work with get the information they trust. Can you develop a relationship with these people? Letting local pediatricians and orthopedic surgeons know about your program can create both a network of trust and referral.

You may need to go broader and find/share interviews or articles with celebrity athletes or professionals associated with them that back up your approach. I’m not saying it’s fair, but a parent will pay more attention to a short interview from the Rock saying, “The People’s Elbow thinks kids should be kids” than a 5-page research-cited thesis from you on the same topic.

Developing relationships with and sharing information from people high on a public information trust hierarchy increases the likelihood this information will be absorbed. It also slowly increases your social validation as an expert and one day you won’t need the middle man!

It’s also important to continually seek opportunities to write, speak, and educate. The more your name and face is in public, the more people recognize you as an expert and take heed in what you say.

Get Them to Understand Your Message
Founder of Precision Nutrition, John Berardi once wrote “With everything you send to a parent or coach, envision them reading or watching it while waiting at a red light with a minivan full of screaming kids, radio blaring, and coffee in hand. In other words, keep it short and simple.”

Long term athletic development, or LTAD, may be the hottest water cooler talk of our industry niche. However, this term means nothing to parents. They acknowledge and react largely to what is in front of them.

For information to be absorbed and understood, it needs to be delivered concisely and in the simplest terms. If you use video, shoot for 60 seconds or less with clear visual-based information. Boil down a complex concept into terms a grade-schooler could understand. Remember, the goal is not to impress colleagues. It’s to create a ground level understanding for people with no background in our field. Just imagine if you were learning how the stock market works in 60 seconds or less. How would you want that information presented?

For written information, use a single-sided page with large-font bullet points. Infographics are more shareable across all platforms and are by far the most effective. As far as the info, consider hard statistics, clear research findings, and bold data.

Make Your Message Relevant
In order for coaches, parents, and even ourselves to value information, relevance is key. Our information should inherently answer the question “Why do I need to know this?” While general concepts provide valuable insight, adults are surrounded by general concepts. In order to make it through the filter, information must be presented in a near “first-name” basis.

For example, if sharing general statistics on injury and early sport specialization, parents may or may not raise an eyebrow. They know the information is pooled through various ages and sports across the country. However, sharing sport-specific or age/sex related statistics particularly after someone on the team has become injured has a much greater impact.

I have actually contacted local leagues and gotten injury numbers for the reported concussions, ACL injuries, and shoulder/elbow pathology and compared them to national standards. These were some of the most impactful pieces of information I ever shared.

If there is a simple movement, mobility, or other evaluation found in the literature linked to injury prevention or performance, share it with parents. I’ve done these during live “parent nights” for teams knowing 90% of the room will fail. It puts the notion of “Why is this important to me” right in front of everyone’s face.

Most importantly, listen to parent’s questions and answer them. Write down the 10 most common and answer them through the “trust” and “understand” filters. When parents solicit questions, then trust and understand the answers, it’s a win.

As you can see, educating the public takes much more than posting rants about early sport specialization on social media and bashing the local coaches who buy into it. As youth strength and conditioning coaches on the right side of the cause, we have to be lighthouses of trustworthy, understandable, and relevant information. This station is arrived at through constant learning, educating, and most importantly, listening.

Strive to improve how you share your message and soon your entire community will join your mission to inspire the kids of today to become the happy, healthy, active adults of tomorrow!

Brett Klika is a youth performance expert and regular contributor to the IYCA.  He is the creator of the SPIDERfit Kids youth training program and has run successful youth fitness programs all over the country.  Brett is an international speaker whose passion for youth fitness has helped thousands of people learn how to create exceptional training experiences for young athletes.

 

The old “windows of opportunity” Long Term Athlete Development model is a thing of the past.  Learn the truth about LTAD and how to approach athletes at every level in the IYCA’s LTAD Roadmap.  This is the most comprehensive approach to athlete development available.  Click on the image below to learn more.

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