Seedlings and Young Athletes

I was fortunate to attend the prestigious University of Stellenbosch where the academia was robust, the sports was intense and the socialising was plentiful. While most students might be consuming cheap beer in a dingy pub, we had the privilege of sipping on internationally acclaimed wine from the surrounding vineyards.

The occasion would commence with some wine-tasting (none of us had the funds to spit) and we'd throw around terms like 'bouquet', 'fruity' and 'velvety texture'. Of course, less than an hour later someone would be tackled, half-naked into the duck pond and we'd be asked to leave.

It was during those initial, cultured stages where I was chatting to a vintner about the growing of the vines. Discussing soil types and regions and weather he astounded me when he said he hoped the rains during the vines early life would be somewhat sparse. Not drought-sparse, just less than ideal.

Confused, I asked him to clarify.

Apparently, if the rains are plentiful during seedlings early life they grow quickly and look healthy. Unfortunately, their root system remains shallow - they have no need to develop deeper. This is alright if the rains are abundant throughout the vines lifecycle. However, if there is a decrease in rainfall, the shallow roots struggle and the vine withers.

For those vines whose life-cycles start off a little harder, with less than ideal rainfall, their roots grow deep. This stands them in good stead later on in life and ensures their survival during the harsher years.

I am reminded of this lesson every time I read about 'state of the art' training for developmental athletes.

Having been involved in developing young athletes for over a decade, I understand how no one sets out to deliberately handicap any player. In fact, we all try to help them as much as we can.

We provide nutrition, and coaching, and feedback, and training, and facilities, and equipment, and sports science, and sponsorships, and guidance, and recovery sessions.

We minimise school, and distractions, and hassles, and decision-making, and life-skills, and balance, and consequences, and problem solving.

We water our young seedlings with the best intentions. We want to give them the best, but sometimes the 'struggle' is the best.

The struggle of imperfect equipment and uneven playing surfaces; the struggle of long distances, early mornings and late evenings; the struggle of hot days and cold nights; the struggle of the search; and the struggle of failure.

All these struggles force the young athlete to dig, deeper than they would had it been laid out for them. All these struggles will help them later in life, if they 'make it' or not.

So if you're involved with developmental athletes your job is to make them struggle a bit, take them out of their comfort zone, and help them grow roots and their ability to handle things when it gets a bit tougher. You'll probably be doing them a massive service.

Grant Jenkins is passionate about helping developmental athletes. For more information follow him on Twitter @Grant_Jenkins

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