It’s important for you to be thoughtful about how to help athletes get back to their sport after an absence in a way that facilitates confidence and success. Kids might struggle with their confidence if pushed too hard too soon. You have the ability to impact how kids feel about their return to their sport.
Effects of the Pandemic Are Similar to Injury
In both situations a child athlete is unexpectedly ripped away from their sport. They are isolated from their teammates and coaches. They can’t do the thing they love and aren’t sure when they will be able to do it again.
The pandemic and an injury both cause fear of the unknown. Kids are thinking to themselves, “What will my comeback look like?” or “How will I get back to where I was?” or “What if everyone else comes back stronger than me?”
For many kids their sport is their identity. When they are unable to participate in their sport it leaves a young athlete questioning who they are. They have a lot of time on their hands and have to figure out what other things interest them. They are mourning the fact that they can’t participate in their sport.
What’s Going On for Young Athletes
When young athletes have been away from their sport, they may feel like they should be able to come back where they left off. For example, if a swimmer was the #1 freestyle swimmer on the team, she may think she’ll come back in at #1. That might happen, and it might not. If said swimmer comes back and is not in the #1 position her confidence will tank. She needs to return to her sport accepting that she may not be #1. She needs to focus on doing what she needs to do to get back to where she was.
During this time some young athletes are building fitness which is making them stronger on land and will make them stronger in the pool. Some kids are developing the mental side of sports which will help them work smarter not harder. Some kids are doing one or the other, some both and some neither. This is going to have an impact on how they come back to their sport and on their confidence level.
Fitness Training During the Pandemic
Yes, most of my clients have been training during the pandemic and shelter-in-place, but this has been limited. Some coaches have provided workouts online which has helped, but it’s still limited. Kids haven’t had access to proper supplies and equipment during shelter-in-place.
Some athletes have struggled with their motivation. Why? They are used to being with teammates and coaches. They miss the social aspect of being around their friends. Coaches have designed workouts so kids have had to be self-driven, and it’s been tough.
This kind of fitness training is important, but it’s not the same as sports training. It’s not batting practice or tennis serve repetition. There’s a huge difference between fitness and sports training. Fitness develops a good foundation, but it can’t replace being on the tennis court.
How to Support Kids During a Comeback
How would you bring a kid back to practicing after an injury? Slowly and deliberately, right? The same rules apply when young athletes return to their sport after the pandemic is under control.
If you want to bring kids back to an environment that builds their confidence here are some of my recommendations:
- Help kids find the love of their sport again, and make practice fun.
- Start slow, and go back to the basics.
- Help young athletes develop their goals and what they want to work on.
- Include kids in the decision-making process about the big picture.
This is a great time to challenge and change the way you design practice utilizing some of the above recommendations. For most sports, there are no competitions on the horizon so try something new and see what the impact is.
Some young athletes have flourished during these months off. The new pace has allowed them time to relax and release the stressors they may have felt at school and at practice. Because some of them have seen the other side, they may not want to go back to their sport. You have the ability to positively impact this.
You can help young athletes understand that while training for fitness is good, it’s not the same as practicing their sport. Explain to kids that coming back after the pandemic requires a slow, deliberate comeback. Remember that kids struggle with their confidence if pushed too hard, too soon. Take responsibility for how you impact young athletes’ return to their sport.