People aren’t born athletes; nor do they decide to go out on a run one day and the next they will be representing their country at the Olympics. Besides the important role of genetics, potential athletes must be properly coached at home and at their academies in order to reach their full potential.

While a lot can be said about training, nutrition, and psychology, certain aspects must always be respected in order to encourage children and teenagers to develop their abilities to the fullest.

* For purposes of redaction, the developing athlete will be regarded as he/him or child. That is not to say the case could be she/her, or trainee when referring to coaches.

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It’s about them

Forget your longtime no-hit, no-run MLB dream. If your child hates baseball, there’s no point trying to brainwash him, he won’t suddenly enjoy it. And with no passion comes no fire; no fire, no effort; and ultimately, no result.

Respect your child’s dreams. Even though at younger ages they are more impressionable, as they grow they begin to develop their own taste. Your duty is to help them find their calling and set them in the path to fulfilling it.

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Try different sports

Developing athletes should never be confined to one particular sport, especially as they begin to perform physical activity. First of all, this will help keep it fun, a much-needed quality to gain their interest. Second, trying out different activities brings them a step closer to figuring out their ideal one.

And most importantly, multiple sports tend to form more complete athletes. Recent studies have shown that 83% of top athletes not only practiced their disciplines while growing up. This is simple: each sport favors different skills. While soccer enhances eye-foot coordination, basketball does the same for eye-hand coordination. The more sports they get into, the more attributes they will garner.

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From fun to competition

There is a reason why parents and coaches don’t keep score on younger children’s matches – it takes away the competition factor out of the equation. And while it will eventually be the cornerstone of an athlete, starting ones need something different altogether: the fun of it. Making it enjoyable will invest them to get into it. Also, some athletes are late bloomers, and early competition might get them sidelined, which leads to the waste of great talent.

As the athlete grows and matures, fun should transition to training (a bigger emphasis on developing his attributes), training to competition (now it’s not only about playing – it’s about being better), and finally competition to winning (which becomes the number one goal). Smoothly piloting this transition marks the whole journey.

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Simple skills are the building blocks

It might sound obvious, but it always isn’t – a child training for the first time shouldn’t go on and run a mile, or get 50 push-ups done. It’s all about dominating the simplest skills: movement, balance, and strength, and going forward from there.

An athlete must work on his movements: both stationary (stretching, in turn helping on the prevention of injuries) and dynamic ones (working on their speed, agility, acceleration). Balance is all about proprioception – knowing his own body and being able to coordinate it while performing any activity. And strength must progress very slowly, making sure not to go over their limits.

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Be their pillar and their mirror

Kids are malleable. They look up to their parents, siblings, and coaches. And it’s upon them to be their example. You can spend all your life training them on how to score a triple, but if all you do is sit around and drink beer, that’s probably what they’ll end up doing.

A mentor figure should always set the bar for his pupil. That includes everything: from teaching the perks of putting in the extra work; to live a well-rounded life between the three pillars of exercise, nutrition and rest; and all the way to basic interacting traits – firm handshakes, eye contact, humility.

And support them. There will be rough patches, and they must fail in order to get better, but always be there for them. Celebrate their victories, and when losses come along, don’t overreact (if they gave their all, there’s no shame in losing) and don’t underreact (don’t let them get used to losing; next time they must try harder).

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Feed them for power

We’ve all heard it – bodies are not made in the gym, they are sculpted in the kitchen. The same applies to athletes: nutrition is even more important than training. Skipped three days of practice? No problem, rest is necessary. Three days of junk food? Your body will begin to show right off.

Any athlete must have a balanced diet, providing all the necessary macronutrients to recover, and limiting any food that will hinder their progress (refined carbohydrates and saturated fats, I’m looking at you). Everything is important: proteins for muscle development, carbs for energy, fats for proper metabolism, and vitamins and minerals for proper growth and bodily functions.

In the end, it’s not only about forming an athlete – it’s about teaching them to lead a healthy lifestyle (however, junk food every once in a while won’t hurt, and will help prevent the kid from hating their discipline).

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Avoid burnout

Too much of anything isn’t always a good thing. Excessive training can lead to all kinds of injuries that will put a halt to the athlete’s development, and moreover, will definitely cause a mental strain and a disdain towards exercise.

That’s why it’s been suggested to keep it fun, let them try different sports and hear what they want – along with rest. Schwarzenegger might claim there’s no such thing as a rest day, but that’s the only moment for muscles and joints to recover and get stronger. So be sure your child is sleeping 8 or more hours a day, taking any extra naps should they need them.

One last detail: studies claim an athlete must put in 10 years or 10,000 hours of hard work to become elite. So, asides from clocking in all the minutes your developing athlete needs, make sure it’s quality time. And if they find their passion and you lead them properly, those hours are the only thing separating them from a gold medal.

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