Presenting challenges to young players is essential towards them reaching their pinnacle in any sport. If we do not continue to challenge, then a young player’s talent can start to stagnate. A push in recent years has been to play your athletes up in age level to challenge them. It has become so normal where a 12-year old and under team might be filled with eleven and ten-year-old.
Although the idea of this process seems understandable. Parents will state that their son or daughter will receive more challenges and their son or daughter will rise to that level. But there are fallbacks to this idea and many young player’s abilities might stagnate even more if they do not find success.
Success is key in this game of failure. We need to find success at every level before we move up the ladder. Essentially by moving your son or daughter up a level or two, we are skipping that level of success that might be essential towards their progress.
The idea is “sometimes it is okay to be a big fish in a small pond.” Because that success that we might attain will be essential to compete at a higher level. When a young player skips a step and they constantly compete against older and many times better kids, then they might start to doubt their own abilities. They forget that they were good enough in the beginning for a step to be skipped.
"Better to do a little well, then a great deal badly."
With idea that your kid will do more and learn more if playing with the older kids, parents and coaches put enormous pressure on very young athletes. Quantity of work in practice or in the game doesn’t mean that it will be beneficial for your kid. Quality always supersede quantity. Even the author of the idea that “10,000 hours is the way to mastery”, Malcolm Glidewell (Outliers), admits that idea of working that long to master something is the fallacy. Practice doesn’t make perfect. Only perfect practice makes perfect.
If you choose to play up a level or two, make sure your athlete is finding success in some way.
It is important in every avenue of life to have success and it is essential for a young mind and body to find that success.
Concentrating on the fundamentals and perfecting the skill is the most important task for the coach. However, there needs to be a plan in place that will guide coaches in their work. Every water polo club (program) needs to have a plan in place that will outline skills that need to be acquired before moving up.
“Failing to plan is planning to fail”
Without our plan it is impossible to guide athletes in their skill progression. Very often coaches will come to practice and improvise. They create workout program on the spot without thinking of long-term plan. Although, this may work with the young age groups, this certainly will not work with athletes that are entering puberty or time of PHV (Peak Height Velocity).
Water Polo is not a rush to the top. It is a lifelong process and it takes time. Make sure the proper care and time is taken and not overcome by a rush to push and push up the ladder where we might not find success and then regret the decisions.