When I was a kid, my mother always knew when I had done something wrong. It was as if she had some sort of mysterious Extra-Sensory Perception, or on a more terrestrial note, a group of spies watching me at every corner. Either way, even after 35 years and fathering two children of my own, her ability to get to the bottom of my behavior still remains a mystery.
Whether it be via supernatural abilities or just a strong vested interest in the wellbeing of our children, it is very important that we as parents and educators do our best to understand as much as we can about the inner and outer workings of our kids. Adolescents today face more pressure to achieve and excel than ever before. Quantum leaps in science and technology have created lofty standards for productivity and performance both in the classroom and on the playing field. With the level of competition rising, a parent’s encouraging pat on the back can become the hand applying dangerous pressure to an already tight situation.
As a Youth Exercise Specialist I am constantly bombarded with questions from parents on how they can either enhance the performance of their children or augment their physical appearance. As a father I can understand their frustration, but often parents develop expectations that are not in line with the realities of what young people are capable of doing. Having a better understanding of the physical and emotional capacities of our children can help those of us in leadership positions guide young people toward success with more efficacy and less frustration.
Albert Einstein said, “Any fool can know. The point is to understand.” In order to provide better guidance for our children, it is important for us to cultivate a greater understanding of what I call ESP Factors. ESP Factors are the Emotional, Social, and Physical factors that influence the physical abilities of children and adolescents. Whether you are coaching a small group or working one on one with a young athlete, having a sound understanding of how these ESP Factors affect performance is crucial.
The Emotional Factors address how the emotional state of the child can affect performance. Low self-esteem, hormonal instabilities, a desire to please, and/or a fear to disappoint others can all affect the child’s disposition and their overall capacity to apply themselves athletically. Here are three ways you can address these Emotional Factors.
- Parents and coaches can help children improve their self-esteem by helping them learn to identify their strengths, instead of focusing on their weaknesses.
- Children in a hormonally charged emotional state are typically looking for someone to validate their feelings. Take time to ask how they are feeling and make sure to listen closely to their response.
- The desire to please parents, teachers, and peers can have a profound affect on a child’s emotional wellbeing. Parents can ease this perceived pressure by emphasizing the importance of having fun and learning something new, versus focusing on coming in first and being the best.
The Social Factors address how the environment the child is living in can influence their point of view, and how that altered point of view can affect performance. Peer pressure and unrealistic societal expectations can create a hunger to “fit in” that can leave many children sitting out. Here are two ways you can address these Social Factors.
- It is human nature to want to be a part of something greater than yourself. Planning more family activities can build stronger connections inside the home, which can improve your child’s chances of connecting with others outside the home.
- Push back against peer pressure by cultivating an “against the grain” attitude. Teach children that it is okay, and even cool, to participate in the unpopular sport or activity. There is no “right pedigree.”
The Physical Factors address how age specific physical limitations can affect performance. Poor motor control, deficiencies in strength, and inhibited thermoregulatory abilities require trainers and coaches to make specific adaptations to programs in order to keep children safe. Here are three ways you can address these Physical Factors.
- Children can demonstrate poor motor control well into adolescence. Trainers can help them improve their coordination by developing a program that stresses proper form and is based around developing more body awareness.
- Kids do not build strength the same way that adults do. Until adolescence their main method for acquiring strength is via neural adaptation or in other words, via becoming more coordinated and moving more efficiently. Help them get the most from their bodies by creating a program that is based on challenging their balance and stabilization in different planes of motion, and utilizing body weight as the main form of resistance.
- Sweat is not an indicator of exertion level. A child’s inability to regulate their body temperature places the responsibility on the coach or trainer to ensure that young athletes are training at the appropriate intensities. Schedule frequent water breaks for children and emphasize the importance of staying hydrated and eating well.
Frustration is the direct result of a disconnection between reality and expectations. As parents, coaches, and mentors we often get frustrated when we cannot get the best out of our young athletes. Developing a better sense of the realities of our children’s lives and being aware of these ESP Factors can help us alter our expectations and ultimately help us become more effective leaders.
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