Everybody Wants a Piece of My Kid: Calculate, Don’t Negotiate

If I told you that rest builds and work breaks down, would you rest them more?

This is the question I pose to the well-intended but extremely competitive AAU basketball coach who is negotiating with the families of his starters. He needs those top three and, you see, they also play travel soccer. Spring soccer season is in the full swing, and they’re in the hunt for the State Cup title. So, will it be soccer or basketball? Why not both?

It’s their soccer coach who comes to me, worried. He loves these kids. Doesn’t want them to get hurt. But he’s listening to these families try to negotiate practices every night of the week and several tournament games most if not every weekend. He says, “They are starting to sound like the teams I read about.”

And read about we do. Every season the ones who make the papers are the teams with kids dropping out: knee injuries, surgeries, concussions. We call them warriors and celebrate their courage, their fortitude. But while we are celebrating, they’re not. They’re sitting on the sidelines. Exactly the place they don’t want to be.

“They play in our game,” the soccer coach tells me,”and then they are jumping into the car, changing uniforms along the way to their next game.” When do they eat? When do they re-hydrate?

When do they rest?

Truth is: these athletic kids are in demand. All the coaches want them because they are good at all the sports. We’ve made that possible by exposing them to lots of opportunities. Good for us. But on the way to “select” teams we forgot to teach them the how to be selective.

It may seem like kids can do it all. They’ve got lots of energy. They’re young and fit and flexible. And the coach is on the phone pleading, “Please, we need them.” What he doesn’t say but means is…we need them to win.

Kids will come out the losers if we don’t help them decide which team and how many games to play. Oh, they want to do it all. Just like we do. But it’s not healthy. Deep down we know this. We get caught up in this, too. right? I’ll just add this and this, but let me hang onto these other things, just in case I need them later. Sound like a good strategy? Let me tell you about those size 2 jeans I finally gave away when I admitted I was never going to get back into them.

And that was a good decision: adding without subtracting is hoarding. Hoarding is not healthy. Let’s not turn our kids into people who don’t know how to say no, who do everything so no one gets hurt. No one but them.

Here’s the science: training, especially high intensity training (like games and scrimmages), is a stressor. It stresses the muscles, bones, joints and mind. It does this by design. We break down a little bit and then rebuild the broken bits to make them stronger. Stress, done this way, is a good thing. It stimulates growth and development. But when does the growth and rebuilding happen? When we rest. Particularly when we sleep.

So, here’s the rub. These kids are training/stressing/breaking down, but aren’t putting in the time to re-build. What do have when we break down but don’t build up? Rubble. Pieces. Injury. Yes, I am suggesting that rest be scheduled in. That rest is as much a component of fitness training as the sprints and the burpees.

“I’m just gonna have to hold these kids out of the game if they’re coming straight from basketball games,” the soccer coach told me. “I’m not gonna risk it.”

He’s not gonna risk them. Because he cares more about their long term health than winning today’s game. I do so admire this coach. Unable to influence the behavior of other coaches, other players, even the kids’ parents, he has made up his mind to do what he can for their health. And that’s to reduce their competitive minutes. For their own good.

By doing this he will risk being accused of docking playing time. Ah, the bone of contention on every travel team. How many minutes did my kid get to play today? I’m paying my money, too; how come my kid sat out more than his kid?

Answer: she was being rested. Isn’t it ironic we’ve become a sports environment where rest is considered a punishment? When really, for these kids, it is a reward. God did it on the 7th day after all. It may be the most important training tool of all, certainly the most under-rated.

I know. I know. Everybody wants, no, needs your athletic kid. Let ’em play. But take a look at the number of competitive and training minutes you are willing to invest in. It’s your kid’s health you’re spending. Just like your dollars, you only have so many, where will you spend them?

Every kid is different so make it a family decision. But make it objectively, not emotionally. Perhaps the equation is:

3 – 60 minute practices  (with 20 scrimmage minutes each = 60 competitive minutes)
2 – 80 minute games (160 competitive minutes if they play the whole game)
120 training minutes, 220 competitive minutes

Now you have something to negotiate. If you have already spent 60 competitive minutes in practices and 60 minutes in your soccer game then when you arrive at basketball you can tell the coach who has scheduled 4 (60 minute) tournament games in the next 2 days. I am happy to give you my remaining 100 minutes.

Then tell him, “I’ll play as hard as I can for those minutes, coach.” That puts you and your kid in charge of your own “playing” time. And your own resting time.

And we’ll know that little secret. Competition breaks down; rest builds up. Won’t that coach be surprised when he has a strong and well-rested player for the next game?

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