Momentum Sports Group

“The Importance of Off-Season Training”

MAY 2024

““The Importance of Off-Season Training for Young Athletes””

Read time: 5 minutes

As the landscape of youth sports becomes increasingly competitive, the pressure for young athletes to participate in year-round team-based play has intensified. AAU basketball changed the landscape of the sport significantly, and I would argue that that change was for the worse. While consistent game experience is undeniably beneficial and playing games is always fun, the importance of off-season training should not be underestimated and the downsides of neglecting it should not be understated. The trick is finding a balance between the two…

The Role of Off-Season Training

  1. Skill Development and Improvement – Off-season training provides a structured period where athletes can focus on individual skill development without the pressure of competing. This dedicated time allows for the refinement of techniques, correction of weaknesses, and enhancement of overall performance. According to the American College of Sports Medicine, periods of deliberate practice and training are essential for athletes to achieve high levels of performance (ACSM, 2018). I would add that this level of focus dedicated to working hard at improving a specific skill is beneficial in the long term to the mindset our youth adopt later in life, and teaches them to create goals and accountability toward those goals for themselves.
  2. Physical Conditioning and Injury Prevention Regular physical conditioning during the off-season is important for building strength, endurance, and flexibility. This preparation helps athletes withstand the physical demands of their sport (or often multiple sports!) and reduces the risk of injuries. A study published in the Journal of Athletic Training found that proper off-season conditioning significantly decreases the likelihood of overuse injuries, which are common in young athletes who engage in continuous play without adequate rest (LaPrade et al., 2016). While strength and conditioning seem like things reserved only for the most dedicated and serious athletes, it is highly beneficial for young boys and girls to develop habits and affinities toward exercise and the pursuit of being well-conditioned physically. Much like the above point, these habits often stay with them later in life and have a positive impact on their health.
  3. Mental Health and Recovery The off-season is an opportunity for mental recovery and growth. Continuous participation in competitive sports can lead to burnout, stress, and anxiety. The National Alliance for Youth Sports highlights the importance of breaks in preventing mental exhaustion and promoting long-term enthusiasm for the sport (NAYS, 2020). I would argue that it is becoming increasingly difficult for young kids to deal with the expectations and importance placed on winning, and focusing on off-season training allows them to reset mentally, fostering a healthier relationship with their sport.

The Dangers of Year-Round Gameplay

  1. Overuse Injuries Engaging in year-round gameplay without adequate rest periods increases the risk of overuse injuries. These injuries can range in severity in the moment but even though these young athletes are equipped to handle a lot of physical activity, there is a lot of value in balancing the intensity of the output throughout the year. The American Academy of Pediatrics warns that the prevalence of overuse injuries has risen with the trend of year-round sports participation (AAP, 2017). Off-season training, with its focus on varied physical activity and rest, is crucial for injury prevention.
  2. Stunted Skill Development While playing games is essential for applying skills in a competitive context, it often does not allow for the in-depth skill work that training sessions provide. Year-round gameplay can limit the time available for targeted practice and improvement, which is crucial in the early years of sports participation and creates the foundation upon which a player’s skill will develop as they age in the sport. According to a study by the Journal of Sports Sciences, athletes who engage in varied training, including off-season skill work, demonstrate greater long-term improvement compared to those focused solely on competition (Baker et al., 2015). Naturally, playing games is always going to be a preference for kids because it is the most fun part, but even if they have no ambitions of being high-level athletes, learning skills before trying to perform is a good habit to have.
  3. Burnout and Dropout The constant pressure to compete and perform can lead to burnout, causing young athletes to lose interest and drop out of sports altogether. The International Journal of Sports Science & Coaching notes that burnout is a significant risk for young athletes who do not have adequate recovery periods (Isoard-Gautheur et al., 2013). Off-season training provides a necessary balance, allowing athletes to maintain their passion and commitment.

Off-season training is a critical component of a young athlete’s development, providing the necessary time for skill refinement, physical conditioning, and mental recovery. While gameplay always offers valuable competitive experience, it is essential to balance it with dedicated training periods to prevent injuries, avoid burnout, and promote long-term success. By prioritizing off-season training, we can help young athletes achieve their full potential and enjoy a lifelong passion for their sport.

Written by: Nem Mitrovic

References

  • American College of Sports Medicine. (2018). The importance of off-season training. Retrieved from ACSM
  • LaPrade, R. F., Agel, J., Baker, J., et al. (2016). AOSSM Early Sport Specialization Consensus Statement. Journal of Athletic Training, 51(2), 75-84.
  • National Alliance for Youth Sports. (2020). Preventing burnout in young athletes. Retrieved from NAYS
  • American Academy of Pediatrics. (2017). Overuse injuries, overtraining, and burnout in child and adolescent athletes. Pediatrics, 119(6), 1242-1245.
  • Baker, J., Cobley, S., & Fraser-Thomas, J. (2015). Early specialization in youth sport: a requirement for adult expertise? Journal of Sports Sciences, 27(6), 677-686.
  • Isoard-Gautheur, S., Guillet-Descas, E., & Lemyre, P. N. (2013). A prospective study of the influence of perceived coaching style on burnout propensity in high level young athletes: Using a self-determination theory perspective. International Journal of Sports Science & Coaching, 7(3), 341-352.

“Embracing and Encouraging Adversity in Sports”

APRIL 2024

“Embracing and Encouraging Adversity in Youth Sports”

Read time: 4 minutes

In the world of youth sports, the troubling but increasingly prevailing trend seems to be one of shielding young athletes from adversity at all costs. Whether it’s through lack of quality coaching, overprotective parenting, or a combination of both, the message can sometimes unintentionally become that failure and struggle are to be avoided at all costs. However, what if we could intentionally change the perspective toward adversity that we instill in our youth? What if, instead of something they learn to fear and avoid, adversity becomes a crucial ingredient for their growth, character building, and ultimately, success?

Athletes who have weathered the storms of adversity firsthand often speak about its transformative power. Take Serena Williams, arguably most accomplished tennis player of all time, as an example. She once said, “I’ve had to learn to fight all my life — got to learn to keep smiling. If you smile things will work out.” Williams’ journey to success has been marked by setbacks, injuries, and defeats, but each challenge she faced only fueled her determination to push through and excel. It’s a sentiment echoed by countless athletes across various sports. “I used to dread adversity,” admits Michael Phelps, the most decorated Olympian of all time. “But now I realize it’s the adversity that makes you who you are. It’s what shapes and molds character.” Phelps’ words highlight a crucial aspect of adversity – it’s not just about overcoming obstacles, but about the personal growth that occurs in the process.

Research backs up what athletes like Williams and Phelps have experienced firsthand. Studies have shown that facing and overcoming adversity in sports can lead to greater resilience, increased mental toughness, and improved problem-solving skills. In a study published in the Journal of Applied Sport Psychology, researchers found that athletes who had experienced adversity reported higher levels of personal growth compared to those who had not. But perhaps even more compelling is the link between adversity and success. Angela Duckworth, a renowned psychologist and author of “Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance,” has spent years studying what sets high achievers apart. In her research, she’s found that grit – defined as a combination of passion and perseverance in the pursuit of long-term goals – is a better predictor of success than factors like talent or IQ. And where does grit come from? You guessed it – overcoming adversity.

So why, then, do we often shy away from exposing young athletes to adversity in sports? Perhaps it’s because we’re afraid of seeing them struggle or fail. But what if we shifted our perspective and instead viewed adversity as an opportunity for growth? What if we encouraged our young athletes to embrace challenges, to learn from setbacks, and to develop the resilience they need to succeed not just in sports, but in life? The truth is, adversity is not something to be feared – it’s something to be embraced. So let’s stop sheltering our young athletes from adversity and instead empower them to face it head-on. Because in the end, it’s not so much the smooth times that shape who you become – it’s the tough times that accompany them along the way.

Written by: Nem Mitrovic

“The Inner Workings of a Great Basketball Coach”

MARCH 2024

The Inner Workings of a Great Basketball Coach

Read time: 3 minutes

Becoming a great basketball coach is not just about knowing the X’s and O’s of the game. It requires a unique blend of character traits, effective communication skills, and the ability to inspire and motivate players. Great coaches don’t just teach the game; they build strong connections with their players, instill confidence, and foster a winning mentality. Having had 15+ head coaches and countless assistant coaches just in the period after high school, I have seen more than my fair share of coaching styles and abilities. There are lots of ways that coaches can win games, find success, and be proficient at their job, but those that make a positive impact while doing it are more rare. Let’s explore the makeup of a great basketball coach.

Character Traits

At the core of every great basketball coach lies a set of essential character traits. One of the most crucial traits is leadership. A good coach must lead by example, demonstrating integrity, resilience, and a strong work ethic. They must be able to inspire trust and respect from their players and coaching staff and create an environment of collective ambition. Getting the most out of your players and team is often more about understanding the human side of your athletes and how to get through to them, both as individuals and as a group, than it is about which plays you run or what play style you employ. Throughout basketball history, teams have won with varying philosophies and tactics but the one thing that was largely unchanged in all those cases was the camaraderie and togetherness that the team had fostered. As legendary coach Phil Jackson noted, “The strength of the team is each individual member. The strength of each member is the team.”

Establishing Connection with Players

Building a strong connection with players is essential for a coach to earn their trust and respect. Effective coaches take the time to understand each player’s mindset, strengths, weaknesses, and motivations. They create an inclusive environment where every player feels valued and supported. John Wooden, one of the most successful coaches in basketball history, believed in the power of personal connection. He famously said, “A coach is someone who can give correction without causing resentment.” Wooden’s approach emphasizes the importance of constructive feedback delivered with empathy and understanding. Communication is a key aspect of establishing that connection with players, and especially in youth sports we find too many coaches who are lacking in this department. A good coach must be able to communicate clearly and effectively, both on and off the court, without mistreating and abusing their players verbally. They should be approachable and open to feedback, creating a culture of open communication within the team. Yelling does not create connection, and often negatively impacts the confidence of the players who are on the receiving end. A coach should be stern and demand discipline when necessary but do so while maintaining composure and treating every individual with respect.

Teaching and Motivating

Teaching the fundamentals of basketball is a crucial aspect of coaching. Good coaches break down complex concepts into simple, digestible parts, helping players develop their skills and understanding of the game. They provide constructive feedback and encouragement, helping players reach their full potential. Motivation is a determining factor in a coach’s ability to inspire their team to perform at their best. Legendary coach Vince Lombardi once said, “The difference between a successful person and others is not a lack of strength, not a lack of knowledge, but rather a lack of will.” Going back to the earlier point about the human side of their players, good coaches understand what motivates each individual and find ways to fuel their passion and drive. Thinking that every player will respond the same to a certain approach and style of coaching is bound to cause problems and delay progress.

In conclusion, the road to becoming a good basketball coach is paved with dedication, leadership, and a genuine desire to help players succeed. By embodying the essential character traits discussed above, focusing on establishing meaningful connections with players, and effectively teaching and motivating their teams, coaches can make a lasting positive impact on the lives of their players both on and off the court. More than winning games, personal or team achievement, or any other measurable statistic, the feeling of making a significant positive impact on a player’s development and experience in the sport is what all coaches should strive for.

Written by: Nem Mitrovic

“The Power of Positive Internal Dialogue”

FEBRUARY 2024

The Power of Positive Internal Dialogue: Nurturing Confidence in Youth Sports

Read time: 5 minutes

In the realm of youth sports, the dialogue that children have with themselves is often overlooked but profoundly influential. The way they perceive their abilities, interpret setbacks, and approach challenges can shape their athletic journey and overall well-being. When their internal thoughts are more positive-leaning, the chances of positive results externally are significantly increased, as is their overall enjoyment of the sport. In this blog post, we delve into the significance of fostering positive internal dialogue among young athletes, exploring how it cultivates confidence, resilience, and ultimately, success on and off the field.

1. Shaping Confidence and Self-Belief:

Positive internal dialogue plays a pivotal role in shaping a child’s confidence and self-belief. Research conducted by Dr. Albert Bandura, a renowned psychologist, emphasizes the concept of self-efficacy—the belief in one’s ability to succeed in specific situations. When young athletes engage in positive self-talk, affirming their capabilities and focusing on their strengths, they enhance their self-efficacy, paving the way for improved performance and resilience in the face of challenges. Conversely, if the athlete focuses mainly on what they are struggling with, their shortcomings, or comparison to those who are currently ahead of them in abilities and status, they set themselves up for a more challenging road to success filled with inconsistent performance.

References:

2. Managing Stress and Overcoming Adversity:

Positive internal dialogue equips young athletes with the tools to manage stress and overcome adversity. Dr. Kelly McGonigal, a health psychologist, highlights the impact of mindset on stress resilience. While it is true that parents are sometimes the ones to be hard on their kids, often it is the kids who are hard on themselves and experience every mistake or loss as if it defines who they are. By cultivating a positive outlook through self-compassion and optimism, children learn to navigate pressure-filled situations with composure and determination, turning setbacks into opportunities for growth.

References:

3. Fostering a Growth Mindset:

Positive internal dialogue nurtures a growth mindset—a belief that abilities can be developed through dedication and effort. Dr. Carol Dweck, a pioneering psychologist, emphasizes the importance of cultivating a growth mindset for fostering resilience and learning. When young athletes view challenges as opportunities to learn and improve, they embrace the journey of mastery, persisting in the face of setbacks. In learning to deal with these difficult situations using the right approach, they embody resilience and perseverance, essential qualities not only in sports but also in academics, careers, and personal endeavours.

References:

Side note: I just read this book last month and highly recommend it for any young student-athletes. A great book for parent and child to read together if possible, there are a lot of positive things to take away from it!

4. Cultivating a Supportive Environment:

Positive internal dialogue thrives in a supportive environment where coaches, parents, and peers play instrumental roles. Dr. Jim Taylor, a sports psychologist, emphasizes the importance of fostering a culture that promotes positive self-talk and constructive feedback. Encouraging words and affirmations from coaches, teammates, and parents reinforce a child’s sense of self-worth and capability, nurturing a mindset grounded in optimism and resilience. However, relying on the environment should always be secondary to cultivating an internal environment that reflects the support you would hope to have externally.

References:

In conclusion, the importance of positive internal dialogue in youth sports cannot be overstated. It serves as the cornerstone of confidence, resilience, and growth, empowering young athletes to navigate challenges with grace and determination. By nurturing a mindset grounded in optimism, self-compassion, and a belief in the power of effort, we equip the next generation with the tools they need to thrive in sports and beyond. As coaches, parents, and mentors, we are striving to cultivate a community where positive internal dialogue flourishes, empowering our youth to reach their full potential on and off the field.

Written by: Nem Mitrovic

“Fostering Competitive Spirit in Youth Sports”

A team of competitive basketball players

JANUARY 2024

Fostering Competitive Spirit in Youth Sports: A Crucial Ingredient for Success in Life

Read time: 5 minutes

In the world of youth sports, the debate on the importance of competition often takes centre stage. While some argue for a gentler approach, emphasizing the value of participation over victory, there is a growing consensus on the benefits of instilling a competitive spirit in young athletes. This blog post dives into the significance of competitive environments for children, exploring how it not only enhances their athletic abilities but also prepares them for the challenges they will face in the future workforce. For each point, we have provided additional reference material for those who would like more information on the topic, written by various psychologists and researchers.

1. Building Character and Resilience:

This is something we have touched on a lot. Participation in competitive sports provides a unique opportunity for children to develop character and resilience. Dr. Daniel Gould, a renowned sports psychologist, highlights that facing competition teaches young athletes how to handle success and failure gracefully. The ability to bounce back from defeats and celebrate victories with humility is a crucial life skill that competitive sports instill in children.

References:

2. Learning to Set and Achieve Goals:

Competitive sports introduce children to goal-setting early in life. Research by Dr. Edwin Locke, a pioneer in goal-setting theory, suggests that individuals who set specific and challenging goals tend to perform better than those who do not. In a competitive environment, young athletes learn to set performance goals, fostering a sense of achievement and motivation that transcends the sports arena and carries into their academic and professional lives.

References:

3. Developing a Work Ethic:

Another frequent topic of ours! Competitive sports demand discipline, dedication, and hard work. Dr. Angela Duckworth, a psychologist and author of “Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance,” argues that grit, a combination of passion and perseverance, is a key predictor of success in various domains. Engaging in competitive sports nurtures a strong work ethic as children learn to commit time and effort to improve their skills.

References:

4. Embracing Healthy Competition:

Competitive environments teach children the importance of healthy competition. Dr. Jean Twenge, a psychologist and author of “iGen,” highlights that understanding the concept of fair competition is essential for navigating the competitive nature of the modern workforce. Shielding children from competition may hinder their ability to cope with the realities of a competitive job market later in life.

References:

In conclusion, fostering a competitive spirit in youth sports is not about putting undue pressure on children but rather equipping them with the skills and mindset needed to thrive in an increasingly competitive world. The benefits extend beyond the sports field, laying a foundation for success in academic, professional, and personal endeavours. As we shape the future generations, it is essential to recognize that a healthy dose of competition is a valuable asset, preparing our youth for the challenges that lie ahead.

Written by: Nem Mitrovic

“The Power of Habits: When Basketball Mirrors Life”

DECEMBER 2023

“The Power of Habits: When Basketball Mirrors Life”

Read time: 5 minutes

Habits.

We talk about them a lot as adults. They shape our everyday lives to different degrees, and whether good or bad, they are undeniably a big part of who we are as people. With the New Year around the corner, there are going to be many New Year’s resolutions made about developing better habits. Some of the resolutions will stick, but many won’t. But anyone who has a good habit knows that once it is engrained, it is much easier to keep up with it than trying to establish a new one.

Enter youth sports.

In the dynamic world of youth sports, young athletes are not merely honing their skills on the court but are also crafting the blueprint for success in life. The court, alongside the dynamic action and physical output, becomes a training ground for more than just athleticism; it becomes a breeding ground for those same habits that extend far beyond the game. The earlier in life good habits become the norm, the easier it is for those same young athletes to maintain them later in life. Once an athlete, always an athlete! Below are some of the powerful good habits that basketball instills to shape not only stellar athletes but also disciplined, focused, and successful individuals later on.

Discipline on the Court = Discipline in Life

The basketball court demands discipline—early morning practices, strenuous drills, and a commitment to improvement. These habits, when instilled at a young age, transcend the boundaries of the court and infiltrate various aspects of life. The discipline required to perfect a jump shot or master a set of dribble moves becomes a transferable skill, equipping young athletes to navigate the challenges of academics, relationships, and personal growth.

Time Management

All young athletes have to juggle a multitude of responsibilities on top of the sport they play. This is only heightened when they participate in multiple sports throughout the year, and forces them to develop time-management skills at an early age. Between finishing their homework and taking care of school needs, working on their athletic skills and attending practices, and competing in games, those who struggle to keep up with all of it are often met with displeased parents who make managing their time better a pre-requisite for further participation in the sport. The level of accountability this creates for a young child is a great way to prepare them for an even busier life in adulthood and is an invaluable part of the sports journey.

Goal Setting

Regardless of the level of ambition, there is a great importance to setting goals for oneself in the short and long term. Some kids dream of making it to the NBA while others just want to make their school team so that they can enjoy the game with their friends. Whatever the goal, the process teaches the young athlete how to work toward something and dedicate the required energy to achieving it. If you fall short of your goals, you realize that you have to work harder to achieve them on the next try. This constant chase of improvement in relation to your goals is a crucial component of all people who become high achievers later in life. Athletes have a specific goal and a specific set of things they have to do, or learn to do, to make those goals become a reality.

Healthy Lifestyle Choices

A commitment to improvement on the court often extends to a commitment to a healthy lifestyle. Young athletes learn the importance of nutrition, fitness, and rest for optimal performance. These habits contribute to overall well-being and set the stage for a healthy and active life beyond the basketball court. Many of the upcoming New Year’s resolutions that were mentioned at the beginning of the post are going to be directly related to one’s fitness and well-being. When a young athlete gets used to what is required to play their sport, the goal is that these people stay athletes for life regardless of how long they continue to pursue participation in team sports. Taking care of your physical wellness throughout life is important.

In the world of youth sports, the development of good habits is not just about scoring points or winning games; it’s about shaping individuals who are poised for success in all facets of life. The discipline, time management, teamwork, resilience, and commitment to a healthy lifestyle learned on the basketball court lay the foundation for a lifetime of achievement. For young athletes and their parents, the journey isn’t just about the game—it’s about cultivating habits that will lead to a winning score in the game of life.

Written by: Nem Mitrovic