Are Young Athletes Actually Elite?

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I drive myself borderline crazy trying to keep up with all of the teams and leagues that my athletes are on/in.

Soccer and hockey seem to be the big ones where there are multiple teams for multiple ages. For someone on the outside, it is very confusing.

Basically what the clubs/private teams are trying to do is monopolize everyone. When I was younger playing on a select team meant that the talent was good and only a few people made it.

Now as long as a parent has a check in their hand there is a spot on a team. There are top teams, middle teams, and bottom teams as far as talent goes. Why need this in levels before college? I have no clue.


This system creates a few problems. One problem is that the best athletes are only playing against the best athletes. This definitely pays off to be good young because those athletes get the better competition and coaching.

This brings us to point two early developers get a huge advantage. One day I had my high school group on a Saturday morning. It was small and the two kids were both incoming freshman. One kid was 14 and 6’3. The other was 15 and hovering around 5’1.

If these athletes played the same sport then they would be competing against each other. Now our taller athlete makes basketball coaches drool because of the size at that young of an age. He gets more opportunities to play better competition because he developed younger than his peers.

The part that most parents and coaches do not realize is that our shorter athlete also has a huge advantage. He will hit a growth spurt later on and probably end up average height.

This gives him time to work on the skills that he can control. He can fine tune his ball possession, shooting, quickness, and speed. When he does catch up in size these skills are refined and the early developers never learned them.

This is why it is so important to get athletes into great programs. Certain organizations are committed to developing athletes over winning right now. This is apparent on a team where the tallest kid spends some time at point guard, etc.

This kind of development also exists when it comes to out of sport training.

Athletes that are ages roughly 7-11 are going to be great at learning fundamental movements and small area quickness. Teaching these athletes good technique and how to be quick does wonders for them. Drills can only really last about 5 seconds with these kids.

Athletes that are in that 11-14 range can begin to work on strength and conditioning. These athletes should be able to move well from the previous stage, continue their quickness, but now be able to sustain it for a lot longer.

The next stage is 13-16 and that is a max speed stage where sprinting improves greatly. Athletes can also now start to work on reacting with the skills they are building.

After that we have our elite athletes that are training to win. No shocker there that we have the last year of high school and beyond. Most athletes do not make it beyond.

Those stages are why athletes 16 and under are not elite. There is still some important development left that needs to be tapped into.

We have a lot of 12 year olds that win national titles but not nearly the same number winning them in college.

There is too much variation in young athletes. Some develop earlier than others and never trained the skills they needed for when everyone caught up.

This is one of the interesting parts of training our youngest of athletes. Sometimes it feels like babysitting because they are so young but they improve almost without them knowing it.

They might be doing ladder drills and mess it up every time but learn how to be fast since they are at least trying to move fast.

So are young athletes elite? No.

Usually elite athletes are just the ones that develop before anyone else. If they are still good by their senior year of high school, then go ahead and call them elite.

To build elite athletes we have to ensure that they are given the chance to properly build important qualities. Are they learning to be quick at a young age? Are they saving the max speed stuff for when they are older? Are they receiving good coaching even though they are not on the top team?

All questions that go into training for a young athlete.