A couple years ago, my youngest and I were having a discussion about club soccer.  She was trying to convince me to play and then came with the phrase, “I’m not going to get any better if I don’t play club.”

I had to stop and think about what she said.  The statement wasn’t entirely true, but she believed it because several friends close to her played club soccer and she wanted to play.

Not even 10, we went ahead and signed her up to play club soccer (please feel free to read any of my previous posts about my thoughts on club sports and sport specialization).  She now felt she was going to become this awesome soccer player.

Several seasons later, she has become better, but how much better could be up for debate.  In her mind, she has put in the work which consists of once the season starts practice (3 times a week), some games, a couple trainings a week during some of the winter, more practice in the spring, some games again, and then summer comes with a little of a break.

Now, not once in the paragraph above did I say anything about her going outside X times a week and practicing her soccer skills on her own.  Or begging to take me to the school two minutes away and practicing shots on goal.

In her mind, and many kids like her in this generation, she is working hard.

There lies the problem.  Everything the athlete does to get better is scheduled and organized.  They do nothing on their own anymore. 

I was watching the same daughter play in her first fourth grade basketball game recently.  Her team was clueless on a lot of the basic understandings of the game.  Not the coaches fault per se, but they just hadn’t played a lot of basketball.

In fact, one time they were inbounding the ball, but none of their team had continued down the court to get ready for offense.  Her team took the ball and saw 5 on 0 on one end and went to shoot a basket.  They missed.  The other team came back down got the rebound and had the wherewithal to shoot the ball and end up getting two points.

I’ve creeped into the oldie generation that laments how things were so much different back in the day, but at fourth grade I seemed to have a basic knowledge of the concepts of basketball.  Fourth grade was also my first year of playing organized basketball.

The difference was I had played a bunch of basketball on my own prior to that year.  I wasn’t a superstar, but I had an idea how to play the game.

Hard work nowadays includes everything that is scheduled with a coach.

I throw myself in that mix.  People have to schedule with me to get stronger and faster.  People schedule with their hitting coach, their shooting coach, or their golf coach.  The idea of playing pick-up sports is almost disappeared.  They don’t have the opportunities to figure things out for their own.

So when my daughter tells me the only way she will get better is by playing club sports.  I shake my head.  Practicing the 4.5 hours a week, playing a game, will get you better to a degree, but how about going outside and juggling for 30 minutes a day (at the minimum).

We have a basketball hoop in our cul-de-sac that rarely gets used.  No one is out there shooting free throws or practicing their dribbling or playing a simple game of 21.

Not saying I did that all the time, but I lived 20 minutes away from my school.  My friends were scattered all over the city.  There were times where I’d be home during the summer not seeing any of my friends for a while.  You go out and shoot hoops or take swings off the batting tee because you were bored.

Bottom line is the definition for hard work nowadays for these athletes has morphed.  I still feel that part of that definition for hard work needs to include the following – what are you willing to do on your own time to make you a better athlete?

No coaches around.  No parents organizing things.  Just you.  What will you do on your own to be the best athlete you can be??

My daughter worked hard for 4 months to get the basketball to spin on her finger.  She would practice daily and many times the ball would bang against our wall or almost break things.  She now can do it very well.  She doesn’t do the same strategy for her dribbling or her juggling.

Maybe that same effort should be put into the fundamentals of the sport.  All this club stuff going on, I don’t necessarily see athletes that are so much better than the athletes I witnessed 25 or 30 years ago.  Let’s get back to “old school” hard work and see what happens to todays athletes.

What are your thoughts?  Share them in the comments box below and appreciate you reading.