The Real Purpose of Sports Performance Training
By Bill Parisi, Founder, Parisi Speed School
Throughout my 23-year career in the sports performance industry, I have interviewed hundreds of trainers for a variety of reasons. One recurring theme among these trainers was the desire to train elite athletes. For them it would be the ultimate test of their knowledge and experience that would, if successful, produce the kind of results that would potentially lead to training more elite athletes and building a reputation that would span the industry.
I fully understand the desire to work with that high-end athlete and ply the skills I've developed as a trainer – not only to help that athlete reach his/her performance goals, but maybe as much to prove to myself that I can make an impact even in that relatively small pool we call elite athletes.
Well, over the course of years, I have had the opportunity to train lots of D1 and professional athletes from every sport. In fact, one of my first clients ever was Phil Simms, former franchise quarterback of the New York Giants. My career took off and to this day Phil Simms remains the National Spokesperson for Parisi Franchises Systems, Inc. So, you could say that I owe a lot to this elite athlete.
I have discovered that many inside and outside the fitness industry believe that the essence of sports performance training is concerned only, or primarily with training the elite high school, college and professional athlete. But as a veteran now in the sports performance industry, I've come to a different conclusion. It's as much about building the self-esteem of children from a young age, so that they will not only perform better on the athletic field, but also in the classroom and ultimately in every aspect of life.
That sounds crazy doesn't it? To think that an athletic trainer could have that kind of reach or impact - the ability to make a difference not only on the field, but also in the home, the classroom, in personal relationships and even in their ultimate career. It's true! I've seen it and lived it. Now, that's nearly all I think about when I'm training kids – am I, as a coach, building them up to face the challenges not only on the athletic field, but in life itself?
The first question I ask every "athlete" (ages 7 through college) is, "Why are you involved in sports?" Surprisingly, very few kids respond that they want to be a college or pro player. Instead, I usually hear responses like, "I love baseball or football," or "I love playing with my friends." Some kids just think it's cool to be "on the team." For these kids, it's about having fun and being part of something bigger than themselves.
Involvement in sports for some kids stems from their love to play, along with their own perceived belief that they're good at it. Other children join a sport because their friends are playing and they want to be a part of what's going on. Whatever the reason, kids should have a positive experience in their younger years no matter their athletic ability. Our goal for kids up through 8th grade should be to help them love the game, whatever the sport.
Coaches are the primary delivery vehicle of a good experience had by the player, and if the coach is doing his job well, they see kids coming back each year because of their great experience from the year before. A coaches' goal should be retention – to keep every player engaged up to their high school years.
When a child begins training at a Parisi Speed School or in some other facility it should also be a very positive experience. At Prisis' we do train our fair share of elite athletes, but without a doubt our greatest work is done with those children that may be unfit, or struggle to make the team at all – kids with a lower level of athletic ability. This is where a coach can truly shine and make the greatest impact in a child's life. Giving a child a sense of belonging, a sense of competence and a sense of worth, thus developing in them a positive self-esteem is paramount to them coming to love the game or fitness in general.
Over 75% of kids drop out of organized sports by the time they reach the age of 14. The reason is that most children are afraid of failure and secretly believe they can't compete at that level. While this may be true for some, I believe for the vast majority of kids this is false. They can play at the next level, but they'll need training if they want to compete.
I am convinced that youth coaches bare most of the responsibility for children bailing out at the high school level. Believe me, I know it's a big change for an athlete when they arrive at high school athletics. But as coaches, instead of being motivational and inspirational at the youth level, so many of us come across as hard nosed, overly demanding and negative. Although a child may be able to perform at this level, they lack the confidence and fear failure, leading them to quit instead of risking failure.
The sports performance trainer who desires to work with children must be trained and prepared to challenge kids mentally and emotionally. Let's face it, most kids are not motivated to do much except play video games, get on the internet, or watch TV. As professionals in the field of fitness, we must help each and every child to create a clear and concise vision of what truly motivates them to train and succeed in sport.
Your training department manager or facility owner should ask each sports performance staff member why it is important for them to work with athletes. This will help facilitate conversation and crystallize the vision and mission of your staff. This is also where you as an owner or director will be able to speak into your staff and paint the greater context for them to be a great coach.
Contrary to popular belief, the number of elite athletes at all levels is very small when compared to the general market of children. If you are looking to build a sports performance business within your club, then the mindset of your staff needs to focus on helping the masses. Make every child in your program a winner, no matter what physical performance level they currently possess. For this to be effective, the sports performance trainer needs to come to grips first with him or herself. They need to realize that sports performance training is about helping children of all levels who want to improve their physical performance.
It is important to get your staff to realize that the real work and satisfaction is changing a kid's life by making him or her feel more connected to their peers, not just by seeing a star player's name in the paper.
Build a culture in your organization around changing kids' lives in a positive way, and your sports performance business will take off. The trainer who cares about each and every athlete is the underlying success factor for this business. The key to establishing this type of environment is for the owner or manager to make a similar connection to staff members. The one crucial element to creating consistency with this concept is to spend some quality time with each employee personally, and to find out what really motivates them. Help give your staff direction on their goals and map it back to where you want your sports performance business to go. Treat your staff exactly the way you want your staff to treat your customers. This mentality will become transparent throughout your organization, and members will start talking about how great your club is for the youth in your community.