A concerned parent wrote me this week wondering if their athlete was practicing and playing games too much at their age.

My gut answer, always, is no.

Why is my gut answer no when I have zero knowledge of what the athlete is doing and how old they are? My experience tells me that the parents are often looking for a great excuse not to drive their athlete all over the place to games and practices.

That’s the short answer.

The longer answer is more complex.

For starters, most athletes are happy to play and compete. Suppose your athlete is smiling (Mostly).  Is eating well. And is sleeping.  They are probably doing just fine.  I don’t need a medical intervention to figure this out because, as a parent, I know when my kids are happy and when they aren’t.

And you do too.

Understanding The Pressures Parents Face

But what people don’t talk about when it comes to aspiring athletes is the physical, financial, and emotional toll this takes on the parents.  Think about this for a moment.  If you’re driving across town to another practice or game while your mind is dwelling on a negative aspect of your life that needs fixing, well, you’re not necessarily enjoying that ride now, are you?

Whenever I have the chance to coach a team, I always tell the parents, “Listen, I understand what a burden it can be for some to have to drive to another game or practice. Don’t feel you have to do it alone.  If your athlete needs a ride, just put it out there; someone is often available to help.”

As I think back to one team I worked with, I think about the challenges each of those families was going through.  Here’s a short list:

  • Divorce
  • Job loss
  • Relative with cancer
  • Relative with dementia living with them.
  • Sibling with a learning disability.
  • Company going bankrupt
  • House move
  • SAT’s
  • College applications
  • Spouse with a drug addiction

How did I know all this?  Because as a coach, I like to know who I’m working with.

On that same team, we had athletes who were getting recruited to play Division 1. Others were academically stronger than they were athletic.  But all of them came to practice happy and excited to play. (Ok, maybe not EVERY day. But you get the point.)

But you’d probably agree that on ANY practice or game day, some of those parents were deserving of a break.  We’ve all had texts or emails when a practice or game gets canceled, and someone says, “Thank God! Now I can go get some errands done!”

Understanding Volume and Long Term Athlete Development

When you watch your athlete play today, keep this in mind…

You’ve probably heard of the 10,000 rule.  While there is still some debate around this idea, the gist of it is that to be world-class in ANYTHING; you’ll need about 10,000 hours of practice time to get there.

Roughly, that works out to three HOURS of training and competing, per day, for about ten years.

Ten years.

I share this because most athletes, unless they are gymnasts or tennis players, are nowhere near that number by the time they need to be good to get recruited, etc.

Your athlete is probably not near that number, but they could be.  And they should be. Don’t believe me? Check out page 15 of the Canadian Long Term Athlete Development Guidebook.

But OMG, that’s a lot of time, right?

Well, not really.  

Ask a soccer player from South America who has played soccer for hours and hours every day since they could kick a ball.

Ask an Olympian.

Fundamentally, you must understand that there is a significant amount of time that needs to be spent on ANYTHING to be world-class. (The original 10,000-hour research was done on violinists, but it can be said for surgeons and Pulitzer Prize winners alike.)

The second concept you must understand is recovery.  Not just for the athlete but the parent as well.

Recovery is an art and a science.  It’s not just about training, training, training.  It’s about training and recovering and training and recovering.  Mastering recovery is an untapped area of potential for most athletes who don’t sleep, eat, or hydrate well.

Overall, your athlete NEEDS training volume.  The more, the better as long as lack of recovery doesn’t make them progressively tired, and performance starts to fade.

On a macro-level, you can track hours of training per week.  This doesn’t include time in the car, sadly.  I’m just talking about actual training.  You can track this over weeks, months, and even years.  High-Performance coaches across all sports track training volume, and you should too.

On a micro-level, you can track pretty much anything that you want. An app like Toggl can help you track the time spent doing anything.  There are apps like MyFitnessPal to track food and water intake. 

My favorite tool for athletes AND parents is a Whoop strap.  This strap does more than tracks your steps. And it tracks your recovery too.  It will tell you (mom) if you’re not getting enough sleep and are burning the candle at both ends.  I don’t care who means to you that you should be more and do more and have more.  If your body isn’t responding, you will burn yourself out.

Understanding Parent Volume

Just like your athlete has training volumes, parents have parent ‘volume,’ and they need to recover from it.

If you have stress in your life, you will struggle just like your athlete might if they have stress they aren’t recovering from.

Sadly, I read about a parent who had driven off a cliff after falling asleep at the wheel to his son’s soccer practice.  Recovery matters.  Being rested matters.  For parents, too.

And it’s here where parent recovery and athlete volume collide.  It’s here where I get emails from parents saying, “Isn’t this all too much?”

For you, maybe.

For your athlete…not likely.

And that can hurt.  The idea that your athlete needs more versus your need for rest and recovery can be a tough pill to swallow.  Like any parent, you don’t want to have to say no, but I can tell you that it happens to everyone.

In my article When Values and Performance Collide, I talked about how your values will help you decide what you can and can’t do.  Only you know your values, and sometimes you don’t even know what they are until fatigue sets in.

An OMG moment where you go, as a parent, “I can’t do this.”

And that can hurt.

But instead of projecting that fatigue on your athlete by asking, “Hey…aren’t these too many practices and games?” Seek ways to reduce your parent/athlete ‘load.’

First, get your sleep in order.  Your sleep is your fundamental recovery tool.  Learn how to get a great night’s sleep.  It’s a skill, not a curse. You may find with more sleep that everything seems easier in an instant.

Then…find additional ways to increase your recovery and increase your resources: time, energy, money.

Here are a few ideas:

Call a parent and find a way to carpool.  Demand more help from your kids at home with the laundry and the dishes.  Make sure you’re using online ordering and online delivery for groceries etc.  Gas up once a week instead of stressing when the car goes empty. Ask your boss for more time off and make up the work when you’re waiting for practice to be over.  Change jobs.  Marry someone who is loaded! (Seriously…I had a client who did this.)

If you intend to make this athletic dream come true, then you, just like your athlete, will find ways to get it done.  Without intent, everything will be a struggle.  With intention, your brain will start to help you find ways to get it done.

What I want you to resist doing is projecting on your athlete, “Hey…aren’t you tired?” You can ‘voodoo’ this on an athlete.  After a while, they start to go, “Maybe I am tired?’  When in reality, they have plenty more in the tank.

Join The #1 Mental Performance Coaching Program For Aspiring Athletes

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Olympian Jonathan Edwards

Olympian Jonathan Edwards

Founder - The Athlete Breakthrough Blueprint

Olympian Jonathan Edwards is the Creator of "The Athlete Breakthrough Blueprint": The world's only mental performance training program for aspiring athletes with big dreams.  Over nineteen years he has worked with athletes who have gone on to or competed in NCAA D1, D2, D3, MCLA D1 and D2, the Olympics, NHL, MLL, NLL, NFL, and others.  Feel free to link to this article from your blog and share it with an athlete, parent, or coach who would benefit from these concepts.

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