Are coaches pushing athletes too hard?

As an athlete, you may think I would be the last person to be writing this article. Perhaps, I’m biased after suffering from many arm injuries and shin splints from softball. Although sports prove to be a better alternative to a sedentary lifestyle due to heavy device usage, many health officials are concerned if today’s athletes are being pushed to an unhealthy extreme.

Many young athletes are committed to being the best they can be, since extensive training and great performance lends itself to future opportunities, such as scholarships, but the concern lies in setting a sport player’s body up for injuries that will cause long-term damage.

Paul Saluan, of Cleveland Clinic recently did a study and stated that “Overuse injury in one-sport athletes is often a result of insufficient rest. Sports specialization has always been associated with increased numbers of injuries. Basically, it comes down to the fact that kids are doing too much, with too little rest time in between, and then they break down when they don’t have the ability to get the rest they need.”

For many teenagers and younger children they have visions of scholarships in their future, but too many of these young athletes are being pushed to their breaking point, physically and sometimes emotionally. If a teenager is working out 4-6 days per week, it is recommended that they take a day or two off after the fact. However, some athletes are supplementing any break time with personal training.

My softball coach recently said that the major problem with recruiting softball players right now is that too many players are hurt because of overuse on the field. They have too many recruits coming into the college softball season and having to sit the bench because they are still injured from past seasons.

Some coaches will use an athlete to take the win when a player is already on the way to being injured. It’s a coaches responsibility to teach their players to be great teammates and to be humble. It’s a common, but unfortunate fact that coaches will often overlook a player’s physical well-being because that player’s talent will lead to a potential win. However, some of the most successful coaches have found that a player’s physical abilities need to be downplayed for a total package that include sportsmanship and strength in character.

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Coach O’Sullivan, baseball coach for Florida, said “What happens is that the players talent takes them to a higher level where “character matters”— but they lack the character needed to sustain themselves.”

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Athletes need to take into consideration their limitations, especially as an investment in long-term playing. This is where coaches are tying together talent and physical performance with character. Most athletes get so focused on trying to get recruited that they forget that attitude and character mean the most. Scouts are not only looking at physical endurance. Your talent may be at the highest level, but if your attitude isn’t there and you aren’t a team player, how do you think you are going to get a recruit?

I asked some coaches from Cherokee what they think about pushing their athletes too much and here’s some of their responses.

Coach Stringfellow standing with the CHS Ladies 7 on 7 Team.

Coach Stringfellow (Football Coach):

“Coaches have to find a balance between the need to get reps and the time for the body to recover. Sometimes you can supplement game film and use that as a mental day and give the day off and then come back the next day and replicate what you see on film. We also have to remember you are a student-athlete not athlete-student.”

Coach Law (football Coach):

“As a football coach, I do believe that sometimes we do overwork our boys too hard. And we seem to always be so focused on “Friday Nights” that we forget about the process during the week. We get so focused on the scoreboard at the end of the game that we forget to focus on one day at a time. In all sense, the process during the week is what gets us there on Friday nights.

I guess the answer lies within how you interpret the words “too hard.”  We cannot deny that there are teachers and coaches that focus solely on “results” and rarely appreciate or teach the value of “the process.”  When you only care about what the scoreboard says, or care about the end result, you’ll miss opportunities that could change your life.  Coaches that focus solely on the end result tend to find themselves wrapped up in selfishness and misery.  This is the type of philosophy that will NEVER satisfy.  You’ll get one win and then want another.  You’ll win one championship and then quickly find yourself unsatisfied again and again and again. The “end result” is important, but not at the expense of missing the importance of building character along the way.
Years ago, a wise friend once told me, while going through a troubling time in my own life, “You are looking so hard for that ‘light at the end of the tunnel’ that you’re missing all the little things God is trying to show you along the way, and you might not get to the end of the tunnel until you see and accept the very things He’s teaching you along the way.” So, us teachers and coaches that only focus on the end result have the tendency to “push athletes too hard” for sure.   
As coaches, if our first priority is to love for and care for our athletes, and if we work hard to develop relationships with those athletes, then we’ll find that they’ll let us push them as hard as they’ve ever been pushed.  This happens because they understand we are more interested in them, as a person, versus the results they can produce.  When our athletes know we love and care for them, they’ll be willing to run through a wall for us.  They’ll do everything within their power to accomplish and achieve all that you’re asking them to do. ”

Make the sport fun for your athletes, let them have fun but learn as well.

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