Kirkham's Korner: Developing athletes

By Steve Kirkham published April 16, 2007

I promised in my last Korner to talk about an ideal situation for young people to learn and enjoy the athletic experience. The word ideal is dangerous to use when discussing something as diverse as athletics, but there are certain truths that apply to all developmental experiences in regards to athletics.

Number one; you must be athletic! Balance, eye-hand coordination, speed, endurance, and muscle structure are all necessary in any athletic endeavor and these all occur at different levels and different times in our young people.

Number two; there must be a joy involved. When you talk about endorphin flow, who doesn't remember their first successful catch of a high fly ball or their first basket against a defender? This experience was even sweeter when it was with your friends with no pressure from coaches or parents.

Number three; Physical and mental toughness must be developed. When you fall and get scraped up or get tackled with no padding or catch an elbow in the nose the physical pain is over quickly. After all, we can't play 5 on 4. When adults, particularly parents, are present it becomes a major moment, and the game might be called.

Now that we seem as a society to have decided that part of our duty to young people is to be there and protect them every waking moment, how do we develop these three necessary components?

In a perfect world, there would be a facility where they run, hit, jump, catch, fall, kick, climb, swing, lift, push, stare, listen, anticipate, and smile. Every sport uses each of these skills or activities. True "athletes" can do all of these. Where are the Jim Thorpes, Jackie Robinsons, or even Colorado's own Dave Logan? Dave was drafted in baseball, football, and basketball when he graduated from CU. I've heard Dave talk about growing up and going from one sport to another with his buddies.

If we truly want to see our young people become athletes we must capture this atmosphere. It has been very disheartening for me to watch the changes that have occurred since my graduation from Northern Colorado with a degree in Physical Education. Our young people have been pushed to become specialists. I can kick but have no chance to catch. I swing on a bar upside down but can't dribble one time. I can throw a block but couldn't run out of sight in a week. We have managed to delude ourselves into believing that focused activities are what our young people want or somehow benefit them to a greater degree.

I hear coaches all the time in the college environment make statements about athletes they have recruited such as, "they just can't catch when there is contact," or "they just can't learn something as simple as…" or the best one, "absolutely no toughness." When asked why they recruited them they answer, "They were all-state!"

I dream of a day when kids go back to playing as many sports as they can all the way through high school, developing all the physical and mental skills needed to be as good as they can in the process. I also look for a return to understanding that mental toughness comes from dealing with failure. To get the right attitude you have to fall down and get up, strike out and try again, give up a goal and grit your teeth. Not just once but thousands of times.

Do we want to see all of sports end up where gymnastics is? Belong to expensive clubs or nothing, 1/100th of the participation just 30 years ago, burnt out 12- year olds? I hope not.

Additional News Stories
June 27, 2007UCCS teams achieve 3.15 aggregate GPAAll University of Colorado at Colorado Springs Intercollegiate sports teams achieved a grade-point average of 3.0 (B) or better this past year, Athletic Department officials announced today (June 27).
June 19, 2007UCCS looking for cross country/track coach
May 29, 2007Fitzgerald wins J.W. Campbell AwardDoug Fitzgerald, the Assistant Athletic Director and Sports Information Director at the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs is the winner of the J.W. Campbell, Sports Information Director (SID) of the Year in the Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference for 2006-07.
May 21, 2007UCCS installs sophisticated lightning systemThe University of Colorado at Colorado Springs Athletic Department announced Monday that a sophisticated integrated lightning prediction and warning system has been installed just south of Mountain Lion Stadium.
April 19, 2007UCCS to construct new athletic faciltiyThe University of Colorado at Colorado Springs will replace the smallest basketball venue among NCAA Division II schools with a 1,500 seat athletic field house along North Nevada Avenue, according to plans unveiled Thursday to members of the CU Board of Regents.
Visit our Facebook pageVisit the UCCS Mount Lion's Twitter pageVisit the UCCS Mountain Lions Youtube pageVisit UCCS Rss feeds