The young rights and the coach tasks

I often wonder why we continue to talk about sports and sports performance when we live in a time when uncertainty dominates. Moreover, sport and soccer itself are not immune from serious problems involving athletes and their organizations, from doping to match-fixing, from false accounting to scams related to the acquisition of world-class sporting events. If we stop at just these aspects of our society, we would obviously not have to deal with sports, but we probably would not have to deal with anything if we thought that “everyone is a thief.”

Then there are the young people with their expectations and motivation to succeed in achieving their dreams, and that is what drives me to talk about sports. We cannot leave them alone in finding their way, we certainly cannot leave them prey to the many who want to advise them only to satisfy their narcissism. Instead, we must convey to them:

  • awareness in their own qualities and the need for continuous improvement
  • the ability to accept mistakes and defeats, living them as the only experiences that enable improvement
  • the pleasure of striving to achieve their dreams
  • the belief that the power of the athlete is exercised 100×100 in delivering the best performance of which one is capable, not in winning
  • the belief that the emotional experiences they experience in training and competition are a way for them to learn to manage themselves during the most intense and stressful times in their lives
  • the ability to rejoice and be proud of themselves
  • the ability to respect opponents and competition judges
  • the ability to accept difficulties as an essential and present part of every performance even when one is really well prepared to compete

For these reasons, teaching young people who want to become good at what they do is a very challenging and different experience from working together with adult athletes or those who have already achieved international visibility. These are young adolescents, boys and girls, who are committed to finding out if they have the qualities to stand out in sports and to turn their passion into a high-level sports career.

In individual sports, by high level, we must mean an athlete capable of competing competitively at the international level. In team sports, we refer to playing at least at the level of the top two national championships (where space to play is too often occupied by foreign players).

We know that once established, these long-term goals, however, must be set aside because we must focus on what we need to do to improve and pursue this goal on a daily basis. We also know that it is not easy to acquire this mindset because of the mistakes that are made all the time. They test the personal beliefs that must sustain the athlete in reacting immediately to a single mistake as well as an unsatisfactory race performance.

Teaching young people to acquire this open mindset toward mistakes, interpreting them as a unique opportunity, should be the goal of every coach. We need to teach what Aristotle stated and that is:

“We are what we constantly do. Excellence therefore is not an act but a habit.”

In fact, sports is full of stories of young people who were spoiled by their talent (physical and technical) because they thought that this gift was enough to succeed and when life then confronted them with the decisive tests they were not able to cope. Because we are what we do on a daily basis, study, work and for athletes training. We must be aware that excellence comes from the habit of training with dedication and intensity. Those who do not understand that this is the way to go on a daily basis believe they are making up for it with their natural talent; unfortunately, it is only an illusion that will be demolished at the first rough patches. As counter-evidence of the importance of this mental approach, one can quote what Roger Federer said at the age of 38:

“In order to face younger players, I had to reinvent my play; tennis is constantly evolving.”

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