14 is a pivotal age.
I camped in the lobby during a summer long-course practice while another mom shared the space during her daughter’s skating practice. (I know…it’s a funny thing watching both swimmers and skaters arriving at 5:30 am, entering the same facility. The skater’s peel off to the rink on the right wearing jackets, leg warmers and gloves while the swimmers, wearing caps and goggles peel off to the 50m pool on the right.) It wasn’t long before a Russian-accented coach exited the rink to speak with the mom. The coach commented on the skater’s lack of attention, lack of practice intensity, lack of motivation, how the athlete was simply “going through the motions”. There was an important high level competition in front of the athlete and things weren’t going well.
The mom’s anxiety in response was clear since so much investment at stake. So many years of training, coaching, time in practice sessions and the athlete seemed to losing their edge.
The coach proceeded to talk about 14.
During a Q & A, one parent asked a panel of coaches how hard they should push their high-performing middle-school athlete who, suddenly, was questioning whether they wanted to remain the sport they’d been involved in since childhood. The kid was 14.
I remember one night when Taylor, my son, spent, literally, hours on the phone with us battling his emotions when he had to choose between being on a camping trip with friends and attending a significant showcase work-out. He was battling allowing baseball to “take over” his life vs. him being “normal”. He didn’t know what to do. Taylor was 14.
14 seems to be an age when every kid is at a pivotal point. It’s an age that kids decide who they are and what they want to be. They are deciding what they will own as theirs and what they no longer want. They are becoming individuals. Adults. So, this is a time when they’ll question and wrestle with every aspect of what they do, believe, invest in. They decide whether the sport they’ve been involved in for years, and the goals they said they always wanted are really worth all the hours they spend in the rink or in the pool and all they miss and give up. They fight through whether they are passionate about their sport or have done it for all the wrong reasons.
Parents and coaches can’t panic. We can’t force or manipulate our kids thinking. Ultimately, the athlete has to own their goals. The passion has to come from within them.
The Russian skating coach, the panel of coaches, and my experience and education have provided guidance in how to navigate 14.
• As kids this age struggle to become individuals, they want to gain more control over their lives. Let them make decisions and choices, enjoy the rewards but also feel the consequences of their choices. Unless it’s life altering and dangerous, let them have increasing command over their own lives. So, if they don’t want to go to practice, don’t take them to practice but let them experience the consequences of their decision.
• Encourage an athlete at this age enough to keep them involved in their sport, push them, but don’t push so hard they push back and want to quit. Help them define why they initially loved the sport and reconnect them to that motivation.
• Ask leading questions to help them discover what’s important , what goals they have and why, and what they want to achieve.
It’s hard to put everything that has been invested, all the achievement, and all the potential on the line, but if the dreams aren’t their own, they won’t attain their highest potential, they’ll quickly burn-out, and if pushed, they’ll only resent the one pushing them.
Don’t worry, they turn 15.