Momentum Sports Group

“Youth Basketball: Why Serbians Get It Right”

JUNE 2024

“Youth Basketball: Why Serbians Get It Right”

Read time: 5 minutes

For those who watch the NBA Playoffs, you may have heard a comment that TNT analyst Charles Barkley made recently which sums up everything that will be discussed in this post:

“What kind of world do we live in where the two best basketball players are slightly overweight (Serbian) white guys?”

Lol.

Although he said it jokingly, there is a lot of truth and true curiosity behind the statement. How do the two guys in question – 3x league MVP Nikola Jokic and perennial all-star Luka Doncic – stand out among a sea of superiorly gifted athletes who are quicker, faster, jump higher, etc.? NBA fans will remember Jokic leading his team to a championship last season and will have just finished watching Doncic fall slightly short of one himself with an underdog team.

Let me provide a little bit of context which may be a good starting point. Serbia, a country with a total population of just over seven million (the size of the GTA) and very modest economic means, has been a powerhouse in sports, particularly in basketball, for decades. Despite its small size, Serbia consistently produces world-class basketball players and coaches who make significant impacts on the global stage. Among a long list of elite athletes, Serbia also produced arguably the greatest tennis player of all time, Novak Djokovic. I would argue that there is a multitude of reasons for this, but that most of the phenomenon is rooted in a unique approach to player and coach development, distinct from other countries.

Additional Historical Context: From Yugoslavia to Serbia

Before the breakup of Yugoslavia in the early 1990s, the region was already renowned for its basketball prowess. Yugoslavia won multiple Olympic medals, World Championships, and European Championships. This legacy laid the foundation for Serbia’s continued dominance in the sport. Our own Coach Miki – co-founder and Director of Programming at Momentum – was a member of several iterations of the Yugoslavian youth and senior national teams throughout the 1970s and 1980s.

Philosophies in Player and Coach Development

  1. Emphasis on Fundamentals

Serbian basketball philosophy places a strong emphasis on mastering the fundamentals of the game. From a young age, players are drilled in the basics: shooting, passing, dribbling, and defensive techniques. This foundational approach ensures that every player, regardless of position, has a comprehensive skill set. This positionless approach to coaching is what allowed European players to always be supremely skilled regardless of size. If we take the above-mentioned Jokic and Doncic as examples, one is 7 feet tall and the other is 6’8, yet they finished 2nd and 3rd in the NBA this year in assists per game, with just under 10 per game each. 

  1. Holistic Player Development

In Serbia, the focus is not just on physical skills but also on mental and tactical understanding of the game. Players are taught to read the game, understand different playing styles, and adapt their strategies accordingly. They are also constantly pushed mentally to develop resilience, learn how to regulate their confidence levels, and encouraged to develop their drive for achievement and improvement. This holistic approach produces versatile players who can excel in various roles and situations.

  1. Rigorous Coaching Education

Maybe the most overlooked aspect of their success, Serbia invests heavily in the education and development of its coaches. Prospective coaches undergo extensive training programs that cover not only technical and tactical aspects but also strength and conditioning, psychology, pedagogy, and leadership skills. This comprehensive training ensures that coaches are well-equipped to develop young talent effectively.

Differences from Other Countries

  1. Player-Centric Approach

While many countries adopt a coach-centric approach, focusing on the authority and strategies of the coach, Serbia emphasizes a player-centric model. This model encourages players to take ownership of their development, fostering creativity and independence on the court. This is not to say that coaches are not the highest authority within the team/program in Serbia – trust me, they enforce their authority freely – but rather that they encourage players to develop true understanding rather than just rely on detailed instructions about what to do. This approach allows players to become better at split-second problem-solving and decision-making, which ultimately makes their progression exponentially quicker.

  1. Community and Club Integration

In Serbia, basketball clubs are deeply integrated into the community. Local clubs often serve as the primary training grounds for young players, offering a structured yet supportive environment. This close-knit community support system contrasts with the more fragmented or commercially driven models seen in other countries.

  1. Long-Term Development Focus

Serbian basketball prioritizes long-term development over immediate success. This is something I talk about quite often to anyone who will listen, with my main point being that there is too much emphasis placed in North America on winning/playing for the best team at a young age. Everyone loves winning. A younger me used to get extremely competitive during board games, and it took a while for me to train myself to take them less seriously, so I truly do understand the competitive drive. But emphasizing winning so early sends the wrong message to the children and prioritizes things that serve them only in the short term. It’s about learning and improving, to win long term. By instead focusing on where their children will receive the highest quality instruction and have their talents and character nurtured in the right way, parents set the athletes up to be developed more holistically and in the long run usually they outpace their peers in terms of progression.

Serbia’s success in basketball, despite its small population and economic challenges, is a testament to its unique and effective approach to player and coach development. I could write a long list of notable players and coaches that have made a huge impact on the sport globally but the specifics are less important. I didn’t even mention that the only non-American head coaches in the history of the NBA were both Serbian, Igor Kokoskov and current Toronto Raptors head coach Darko Rajakovic. The important point to make is that by focusing on fundamentals, holistic development, rigorous coaching education, and long-term growth, Serbia has created a sustainable model that continues to produce world-class talent. This creates an enduring legacy for my home country that we are trying to bring to North America in a more meaningful way, and that other countries would be smart to try and replicate.

Written by: Nem Mitrovic

References

“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

“Building Character through Youth Sports”

NOVEMBER 2023

“Building Character through Youth Sports: The Value of Embracing Challenges”

Read time: 4 minutes

In the world of youth sports, the pursuit of improvement goes beyond the scoreboard. While winning is undoubtedly gratifying and something everyone desires, the true value lies in the journey, particularly in embracing and conquering challenges. Engaging in hard activities early in life not only shapes young athletes into resilient competitors but also lays the foundation for true and meaningful character development. In this month’s post, we will explore the benefits of facing challenges head-on, offering insights for both young athletes and their supportive parents. Whenever we have the chance, we talk to parents about how developing skills is necessary to improve and excel at any sport, but the real secret lies in developing the mind. Many of the things that separate good athletes from great ones, or successful athletes from ones who fall short, have to do with their mental makeup and approach to this portion of playing their sport. Since there are too many examples to include in one blog post, here are five of the components of that mental construct that we find to be among the most important:

  1. Resilience: Weathering the Storms

    At its core, youth sports provide a snapshot of life’s challenges. Whether facing a tough opponent, overcoming a performance slump, or dealing with the pressure of competition, young athletes are required to learn resilience. These experiences teach them to bounce back from setbacks, fostering mental toughness that extends far beyond the playing field. Those who are able to build resilience early on in their life are later able to deal with adversity with greater ease, are more likely to look for solutions to problems rather than to complain about them and will to a certain degree look forward to overcoming challenging circumstances that they are presented with. On the court, the teams that have resilience as a group are the ones that can overcome large deficits and make big comebacks to win games.
  1. Discipline: The Path to Consistency

    Success in sports demands consistent effort and discipline. By willingly taking on hard challenges, young athletes cultivate a strong work ethic and the discipline to adhere to training regimens. Whether this shows in the form of waking up earlier than their peers, sacrificing certain elements of their free time to dedicate to more training, or creating habits that will serve them well in their sports journeys, sticking to what they tell themselves they will do is something many adults struggle with as well. These habits can then also extend to other areas of life, contributing to academic success and personal growth. Every parent loves it when their child does their homework without any fuss! The level of discipline should (and usually does) reflect the level of goals that the athlete sets for themselves in the sport. But no matter how large or small that goal is, athletes who remain disciplined to doing what is required of them within that goal are the ones who see tremendous growth from it. For me, this meant sacrificing partying and social time in high school to dedicate more hours and early mornings on weekends to playing basketball. It was a choice I happily made at the time!
  1. Teamwork: Navigating Collaborative Challenges

    Youth sports emphasize the importance of teamwork. Facing challenging situations as a team fosters camaraderie and a sense of collective responsibility. The greatest achievements in the world, whether in sports, business, science, or most other fields, are usually a collaborative effort! Learning to communicate effectively, support teammates during tough times, and celebrate victories together instills valuable interpersonal skills and prepares young athletes for their professional lives later down the road. One way or another, we all have to collaborate with others in some way during our day-to-day lives. While I was at the University of Portland, I did a mock interview with a high-ranking person from Nike as part of my progression through business school. At the end of the interview, he expressed to me how Nike, and many big companies in general, really value high-level athletic experience during their hiring process. Many of the things listed in this post were part of the why, but he especially highlighted the ability to work in teams.
  1. Leadership: Stepping Up to the Plate

    Challenges provide opportunities for young athletes to step into leadership roles. Some people are more vocal by nature, while others prefer to let their hard work do the talking for them. But where there is leadership, there is also accountability. Learning how to lead or be led is an important part of any young person’s development, and being able to do both is a superpower. Whether leading by example, offering encouragement during tough times, or taking charge in critical moments, these experiences help develop leadership skills that are transferable to all aspects of life. People who can display leadership AND resilience in times of adversity are often those who continue to lead capably throughout their lives, and sporting environments offer opportunities to practice this nearly every day.
  1. Self-Discovery: Unleashing Hidden Potential

    Confronting challenges reveals untapped potential within young athletes. Self-awareness is probably (in my opinion at least) the single most important skill that any person can possess. It allows us to look objectively at what our strengths, weaknesses, and areas for improvement are, and to consciously try to work on them as we develop and grow. The process of overcoming difficulties encourages this type of self-discovery and becomes a powerful tool for personal growth. At Momentum, we speak often about the importance of developing and managing one’s self-confidence and this ties directly into how we see our own potential. Aside from physical limitations which can exist in the form of height, most other things can be improved dramatically with hard work and dedication. The belief that one’s potential is unlimited is the secret ingredient to success in all areas of life.

In the world of youth sports, the value of doing hard things extends far beyond athletic achievement. It lays the groundwork for character development and shapes resilient, disciplined, and compassionate individuals. As parents, educators, and mentors, it is our role to encourage and support young athletes on this transformative journey. Through a variety of challenges, they not only become skilled competitors but also emerge as well-rounded individuals capable of success both on and off the field. Let’s encourage our athletes to embrace challenges, and in doing so, we pave the way for a generation of young athletes who are not only skilled players but also high-character contributors and leaders in our communities.

Written by: Nem Mitrovic

“Basketball is a Contact Sport”

A boy crouching down with a basketball.

OCTOBER 2023

“Basketball is a Contact Sport”

Read time: 4 minutes

Sometimes people have this notion that because basketball is not as rough as football or hockey, it is not a contact sport. Yes, there is definitely far less contact on a basketball court than in either of those other sports, but physical contact and strength can play a big role in a player’s success on the floor. I often make the case that basketball players are the best athletes physically due to the combination of size, speed, strength, jumping ability, hand eye coordination, etc., that is required on any given play. Any time you have 10 athletically gifted people whose average height is 6’8 confined to a small space, there are going to be bodies colliding and elbows thrown.

So why is this important?

The notion that basketball does not require contact also creates young basketball players who shy away from it. The fact that the physical nature of the sport is not built into the perception of it often does athletes a disservice because they take a really long time to embrace the physical components necessary to play it well. Those who become comfortable with the physicality earlier can sometimes dominate their peers on account of that alone, while others rely solely on finesse and skills.

In all of our programs, we spend a lot of time talking to kids about how to create, absorb, and leverage contact situations, and helping them understand how to embrace the role that it plays in the game. The good news is, besides learning about it, there is another thing that all players can do to deal with it better.

GET STRONGER

I am not, and will never be, a proponent of young kids starting weightlifting too early or any other activity that can negatively impact the way that their bodies develop in their formative years. But there are a lot of simple, low-impact exercises that athletes and people of all ages can do that significantly increase strength and help prevent injuries that may happen as a result of those contact situations. In fact, in my recent experiences playing 3×3 basketball on the FIBA 3×3 World Tour, I was introduced to a strength training ideology which focuses on low-stress, high-improvement methods that compound over time without overworking the muscles — something that could be perfect for a young, developing athlete who needs to get stronger.

Of course, a prerequisite to getting stronger is having the desire to do so. Exercising consistently can be hard for some adults, therefore we can’t expect children to be all gung-ho about doing 5 sets of pushups every day! However, because there are programs out there that minimize the amount of strain that exercising puts on your body, perhaps there is a way to balance the situation and still get young athletes to gain strength in the areas they need to, in order to better handle the physical components of their sports. Not to mention, it also creates exercise habits for them which they can carry throughout their life, and I think we can all agree that those habits give increasing benefits as we age.

In order to embrace basketball as a contact sport, as well as the bumps and bruises that come with it, players must first embrace the need for increasing their own physical capabilities. That’s when they will start to feel powerful on the court.

** For anyone who may be interested, our partners at Alliance Athletics create exactly the type of programs mentioned above. Their founder and lead strength coach, Matt Koenig, was the one that introduced me to the style of training that I now use every day and will likely continue to use for years to come. This type of training is becoming more popular in NBA circles, and is being popularized by All-Star and NBA champion Jrue Holiday (known as one of the strongest pound-for-pound players in the league) and young star-in-the-making, Victor Wembanyama. All young athletes need to get stronger, and if they can do so without overworking their bodies, the results can be great. **

Written by: Nem Mitrovic

“Nurturing Athletes: Top 5 Parent Mistakes”

A man talking to a girl in a basketball court.

SEPTEMBER 2023

Nurturing Athletes: Top 5 Mistakes Parents Make and How to Avoid Them

September 2023

Read time: 8 minutes

Parenting is extremely rewarding, but it can have its difficulties. We understand that raising young athletes can often be both thrilling and challenging, and that the journey through sports is often paved with a mix of victories and defeats. But above all else, it’s lined with valuable life lessons. While it’s natural to want the best for your children, there are some common mistakes that parents can unintentionally fall into along the way. I have seen hundreds of athletes, both in my experience when I was a young player and later in life as a coach, who have lost interest in the sport they love or were unable to reach their full potential in some part due to to the pressures they felt from their own parents to improve and succeed. Let’s explore what I believe to be the top 5 mistakes parents of athletes can make and some suggestions on how to avoid them:

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1. Unrealistic Expectations

Sometimes it is a case of a parent wanting their child to recreate their own experiences in a certain sport, and they end up living vicariously through them. In other instances, parents hope for children to earn scholarships to ease the financial burdens of college tuitions. Sometimes, it’s as simple as thinking that the child is more passionate about the sport than they actually are. Regardless of the reason, high expectations can often lead to disappointment and the disappointment of a parent is a difficult feeling for any child to process. Young athletes are intuitive to how their performance affects those around them (parents, coaches, teammates) and the fear of letting others you care about down by not being good enough can be crippling to performance and drain any love that the athlete has for a sport very quickly.

To avoid this, it’s crucial to embrace your child’s journey, which includes both wins and losses. Encourage them to enjoy the sport rather than focusing solely on outcomes. Learning how to manage their own confidence levels as they fluctuate (which they will, no matter the talent level), as well as learning how to fail productively and positively, is the greatest win for the child in the long term. The job of a parent is to facilitate that through endless support and positive guidance. As sports psychologist Dr. Alan Goldberg wisely advises, “The focus should be on effort, attitude, and the joy of competing, rather than solely on winning.”

2. Overinvestment in a Single Sport

Specialization in one sport from a young age may seem like a shortcut to success, but it can lead to burnout and injuries. Many elite athletes have diverse sporting backgrounds, and other off-court interests that they pursue while they are figuring out their own desires and passions. The pressure to excel in a single sport can be overwhelming and counterproductive, and is more and more of a trend in today’s society. As the sports world has developed commercially over the past several decades, so too have the unlimited options that parents have in terms of sports participation for their children. With that, certain expectations may begin to foster as a hope for return on investment of money and time, which as outlined above can have a negative effect in the long-term.

Instead, allow your child to explore different sports and activities. It not only reduces the risk of burnout but also promotes overall athleticism and well-roundedness. Playing several sports seasonally until the child feels ready on their own to commit to a specific one with more dedication decreases the risk that they will feel as if their parents were the ones who pushed them to strive for excellence in it.

3. “Helicopter Spectating”

We’ve all heard of helicopter parents — those who generally hover over their children’s every move, often causing unnecessary stress. This can carry over to the stands where parents watch games as spectators under the assumption that just being there is supportive in itself. While intentions are undoubtedly good, it’s essential to give your young athlete some breathing room and to allow them to play the game without having to look over at you for approval throughout. It can become difficult for young athletes to perform if they are focused in on the judgement of others from the crowd rather than the game itself.

The key is to strike a balance between support and independence. Allow them to make decisions and learn from their mistakes, and if they ask for advice during breaks in play feel free to offer it then. Before and after the game are optimal times to provide any kind of constructive advice and support that you wish, but yelling out instructions during the course of play can be counter-productive. As former NBA player Kobe Bryant once said, “When kids feel like they have some ownership in terms of the journey, they’re going to be more inclined to work harder.”

4. Failure to Recognize Individual Goals

Not all athletes have the same aspirations. While some may dream of Olympic gold, others may simply enjoy the camaraderie of team sports. Recognize and respect your child’s unique goals and passions. Encourage open communication to understand what they want from their athletic journey. Parents are pillars of guidance and serve as a compass for their children to try and point them in the right direction but the fact about achievement is that if it doesn’t come from the person who is pursuing it themselves, they are much less likely to get there. No parent’s desire can translate to a child’s success without some kind of positive internal motivation to succeed as the driving force behind it.

Being open to listening as well as placing a large importance on working hard and giving their all to whatever they are participating in is what will open the door for passion to exist. And if the passion does not develop, perhaps they are better off trying something else for a while which will excite them more. As sports parent expert Lisa Cohn points out, “It’s important for parents to understand that kids have different motivations and reasons for playing sports. Your child’s definition of success may be different from yours.”

5. Neglecting the Importance of Education

While sports can be a fantastic teacher of life skills, I think that it’s still vital to strike a balance between academics and athletics. I think most parents would agree. Focusing solely on sports at the expense of education can limit future opportunities, and the reality is that an overwhelmingly large percentage of young athletes do not continue on their sports journey beyond high school. Even fewer are able to pursue playing professionally as a career. The statistics vary across different sports but specifically in basketball, the numbers are extremely low. Some facts and figures provided by the NCAA can be found below:

https://www.ncaa.org/sports/2015/3/2/estimated-probability-of-competing-in-college-athletics.aspx

https://www.ncaa.org/sports/2015/3/6/estimated-probability-of-competing-in-professional-athletics.aspx

Support your child’s academic pursuits, emphasizing the value of a well-rounded education. Many successful athletes excel both in their sport and in their studies, proving that these two worlds can coexist harmoniously.

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Raising an athlete is a journey filled with highs and lows, triumphs, and tribulations. The mistakes we’ve discussed are easy to make unknowingly but also avoidable with a little mindfulness. Remember that your role is not just to shape an athlete but to nurture a well-rounded, resilient individual. Our job as coaches is to support you in that role and to carry that mindfulness out every time we are with your children on the court for a session, regardless of their level of ambition. Don’t forget — despite everything discussed above, sports still carry incredible value to children’s development and offer opportunities to develop an extremely valuable set of life skills and tools that they can carry with them forever. That’s why our mission is what it is.

As you navigate this exciting journey, keep in mind the words of former professional tennis player Arthur Ashe: “Success is a journey, not a destination. The doing is often more important than the outcome.” Embrace the journey, celebrate the small victories, and be there to support and guide your young athlete through the ups and downs of sports and life.

Written by: Nem Mitrovic