I'm not going to give anyone the run down on how sports have changed in the past decade. I think there are plenty of articles out there on early age sport specification to go around. I've written one myself, so I don't see a need to write another. The good part of the number of articles out there is that people are reading them and circulating them around. As a coach whose job is to train athletes, particularly young ones, this is something that makes me happy.
Here's the tough thing about training youth athletes that other coaches would probably agree with. It is difficult to maintain the right balance between fun and progress. Fun is important because for young athletes, that's all they care about and want to do. Training and progress is important because the whole purpose of the kids' parents paying to have training is to prevent injury and promote higher success rates.
I think the difficulty is not in the fun aspect, or in the training aspect. The difficulty lies in the desires of each individual athlete and how they approach training.
There are two different mentalities that I've found that young athletes fall into: Play For Fun and Play My Way Out. These are probably self explanatory, and neither are by any means bad mentalities, but I'll admit that as I continue to grow as a coach I find myself enjoying training one versus the other; here's why.
Play For Fun athletes are those who are playing sports for the heck of it. They love a little challenge, but they tend not to be too upset if they lose or if they mess something up. I've found this mentality to be good in doses, as it reminds me to lighten up a little as a coach. Practice is where you get to make mistakes, that way they don't happen on the field. However, there are those that have no interest in doing nothing but play their game (or scrimmage at the practice for that game). These Play For Fun athletes can sometimes deter a session with a wide range of athletes, particularly if they are in the same session as an athlete with the other mentality.
Play My Way Out athletes take training seriously. If they sense that the emphasis is too highly placed on fun, they tend to show some frustration with the session. I've seen Play For Fun athletes make enemies with this type of mentality, because the lack of desire to work. The reason I call the mentality "Play My Way Out" is that a common trait I tend to notice is that there is a form of external motivation within them. Often times, this external motivation is a situation or level of performance they want to get out of. For some, it could be a bad socioeconomic situation, home life, or social situations like bullying. For others, it could be that things are too good and they want to work for something instead of having it handed to them. They want to get their hands dirty.
I'll be 100% honest that I like working with the latter group of athletes more than the first, but not because I'm anti-fun (though some athletes I coach would try to convince you of that). I like working with the latter group because of the attention to what they do, and why they do. They know what their end goal is. They know what they want and they will work as hard as necessary to get it.
These are just two common mindsets that I've encountered in my reentry into sport performance at the youth level. There are positives and negatives for each of the mindsets, but those will be saved for a later date and in depth posts. The main takeaway is that these two mindsets don't always coincide in training, and if you are a parent whose young athlete isn't enjoying training, you may need to have a conversation with their coach to see what mindset they have, and what approach the coach is doing within the program.