Do we need a new approach?
It is becoming more evident that many more student-athletes are leaving prep sports for private organizations (sports clubs). If the trend continues, we will see a demise of quite a few sports that now have many club teams. This will dramatically change interscholastic sports as we now know them.
But since there are over 5 million high school athletes we will probably still continue to see some interscholastic sports competition. However, the rise and increase in sports clubs is quite dramatic. They are siphoning off many of the best players and even some who probably should not be playing on this level.
Many teams need players to fill the teams to allow some of the better players to experience more playing. These players, without an effective developmental program will never be able to make the elite level. They would probably enjoy playing on the high school team more than on the club team.
Instead of debating whether to play club ball or compete on a high school team we should perhaps look at a different way of dealing with the development high school athletes and the role of the high school and club teams. To do this we would also have to look at the role of physical education during the elementary and junior high years.
Since the schools are established to teach physical education they should be teaching the basic skills needed to function not only in society but also on sports teams. I'm a firm believer that the schools should assume the task of teaching the basic skills involved in sports.
The reason for this should be obvious since most youngsters begin to learn sports skills in the early ages. Because of this the teaching of basic skills should begin in the elementary grades and continue through high school. The sports skills would be taught the same as any other academic skill.
Understand that although sports skills have a major physical component, they also have a very large technical and mental or academic component. Too often however, only the physical side is looked at. Sports are erroneously thought of as being all brawn but no brain. But, studies have shown that sports, or physical activity improves mental function more in the younger stages than any other activity.
If the sports skill was taught most effectively, the youngster would also learn which muscles are involved, how they are involved, how they contract and at the same time, some basic physics or movement principles. This would include the laws of gravity, trajectories, Newton's laws of motion, speed, force, momentum, power and so on. All of this would be covered as they are learning and experiencing new sports skills.
These topics would of course be taught on a level which the youngster can understand. By getting a better understanding of what is involved in execution of the skill the youngster is then better able to learn and master the skill. The idea that an athlete is all brawn and no brain is a myth that has been perpetuated all too long.
In the majority of cases, the best athlete is also the most intelligent athlete. We see many examples of this when scholar-athletes are recognized with awards as well as on the field or court play awards.
If the schools assumed the task of teaching basic skills, youngsters who wanted to participate in competitive athletics could then participate either on a high school or club team. Clubs would be noted for having the elite athlete and there would be competition between the clubs. Those who are not interested in pursuing sports as a career could then continue to participate on a high school teams.
There can be other solutions, but the key element here should be the role of the schools in teaching basic skills. They should have the task of teaching basic skills and general physical preparation and doing a good job in both of them.
Sadly, sports skills are not being adequately taught on any level or with any degree of proficiency. This includes the schools as well as youth and elite leagues. Isn't it time that we fixed this and did justice for our youth? As a result we will have much better high school, collegiate and professional athletes.
For more information, read Build a Better Athlete
Michael Yessis, PhD
Professor Emeritus, CSUF
President, Sports Training Inc.