4 Ways We Can Better Youth Development

The Youth Academy

Seth Godin wrote a book titled “The Dip”. It’s about knowing when to stick things out and see them through & knowing when to pivot, adapt, or walk away entirely for a new change

You could say that when it comes to our current approach to youth development, we’re experiencing “The Dip”...

There’s a firm belief amongst some of the top performers in the world that it’s the results that matter most, not always the intention behind them

Tom Bilyeu of Quest Nutrition once tried to implement a strategy utilised by Google whereby they gave their employee’s “x” amount of time each week to work on individual passion projects that could benefit the company. It was a brilliant initiative for Google, not so much for Tom and Quest

Tom had to walk away from the idea. He had to “quit” as Seth would say. Sure, he had the best of intentions, but he found that the strategy left his employee’s anxious and unsure of what to do - the results were lacking

Right now, the way we’re treating Youth Development and the initiatives we’re putting into play have the best of intentions behind them. The results however, well, they’re being found wanting. Just look at the current obesity, depression, suicide, sport/school dropout, rates , etc…

And it’s my belief, it’s our belief here at The Academy, that we can bring about a huge shift in these results with a shift in where our attention is when it comes to the way we support and guide the youth with their development

We can pivot, we can adapt, and we can change the way things are

The first shift is to take a whole-systems approach to youth development, and treat it as such, not viewing it through a singular lense, such as “sports development”, as is so commonly done. When you break youth development down from the top, what we’re seeking are behavioural changes that will benefit the youths physical, mental and emotional development to empower them to achieve the things they desire to achieve and become the person they aspire to become. To do so, we need to  create supportive environments that the youth want to be a part of and offer support and guidance on creating a framework for these behavioural changes that are individualised to them

Right now, in the majority of places, this isn’t being done. There’s a sole focus on sports development, academics, or another extra-curricular activity. When this is done we focus on the skills required for these endeavours, not the skills & behaviours required for life. And when we take this singular focus to the youth development puzzle, we end up missing an incredibly high amount of puzzle pieces, something that never makes for a happy ending

Does the youth need more support and guidance through a trialling relationship or school right now, or is it in their communication and relationship with themselves? Do they require a shift in their perspective of what they’re truly capable of and supported to discover and fight for their potentials more so than their limitations? What’s interesting, is these aspects will affect other singular aspects of their life - such as sports, academics, personal relationships and more. Bringing attention and support to one area helps to balance the others, as kids will bring outside concerns and issues with them to their sport, their academics and more

Once this whole systems approach has been taken, we need to bring our sights to a 100% individualised approach to youth development across the physical, mental and emotional frame

What are the unique needs and goals of the individual? Where is it that they want to go? Who is it that they want to be? How can we guide and support them to create the framework of behaviours that align with helping them get to where they desire to go and become who they desire to be?

Far too often, especially in the sports and academic world, we take a “one-size-fits-all”, blanket approach. Albert Einstein once said however, “Everybody is a Genius. But If You Judge a Fish by Its Ability to Climb a Tree, It Will Live Its Whole Life Believing that It is Stupid”. I understand that taking an individualised approach is somewhat unrealistic due to time, resources and more, however, I will use The Academy as an example of what is possible when we place ourselves at the feet of the youth and make this 100% individualised approach our aim

Does the youth in front of us need to fall in love with physical activity and moving their body, or is it more speed, strength or size? How well do they handle pressure? How is their confidence in themselves? Is their self-awareness in need of improvement? What about their nutrition and how they’re fueling their body? An individualised approach allows us to target the highest points of leverage with the specific youth in front of us, and this allows us to guide and support them to the best benefit of themselves

This individualised nature brings up the conversation of how, as coaches, mentors, teachers and parents, we sometimes do things that are in our own best interest… setting goals that we think the youth should strive for… telling them the behaviours that we think they should have…

In my short experience so far, I’ve seen far too many coaches try and fit a square peg into a round hole. There’s minimal to no adaptivity of the coach to work with the youth, it’s the youth who must adapt to the coach. As coaches, as teachers, as mentors - we exist for the youth, not the other way around

There is no room for judgement or our own wants and desires of the youth. We are the lighthouse that guides them in the darkest storm, shining a light on the safest path and letting them choose to take it or not

And this brings us to our final topic, the topic of communication. Our words are far more powerful than we’re lead to believe, as with our words we create our realities. And right now, we’re creating a dismal reality for the youth to live in with how we’re communicating with them, and they’re creating a dismal reality for themselves to live in with how they’re communicating with themselves

We get what we focus on in life, and when we focus on what we don’t want it draws our attention to it. Far too often as coaches, parents, teachers and mentors we will say “don’t do that”, “stop doing that”, or something of the like - and it draws the youth to the negative aspect that’s happening, and with this attention comes their emotions

If our communication focused on drawing attention to what should be done, if it focused on the positive, then that is where the attention is going to be drawn, and along with it, the emotions of the youth. They’re more likely going to live in a more empowered, positive state. With improved communication we can teach life skills such as ownership of life, clarity of decision making, and much more too

Armed with the best of intentions and a strategy that has been proven to work so far, there is an abundance of hope on the horizon. It’s not simple, nor is it easy, but by God is it worth it. This is a glimpse into the approach of how we are going to Revolutionise Youth Development, it’s a glimpse in how we’re going to guide, support and shape future generations

Nick Maier