2002 / 2006 / 2010 Three Consecutive Swedish Olympic Teams
There are themes that repeat in the LTAD literature.
From 7-10 yo the local parents set up a “sports school.” One day a week, they’d have a couple hours and try different activities
Very active childhood, but no early specialization, Johan’s skate focus started ~13 yo
Continued to play organized soccer/tennis, and lots of spontaneous ball sports, through his mid-teens. His skating coach supported all general training and encouraged him to continue
Ran, cycled, raced Swedish Nationals (road race)
Grew up in a small city, 125,000 population at present
Surprising to me, Johan didn’t come from a Skate Family.
His Dad was a Regional Class soccer player. As the family grew, his father’s focus shifted from his own sports to being a soccer and bandy coach for kids. He continued to run and race 1-2x per year. Johan’s mom was artistic and both parents worked full-time through this childhood.
His entry to the sport of speed skating was via a local club that handled training, talent development and races.
VERY independent in approach – the local club organized bus trips to race in the Netherlands and Germany in his Tweens, without parents, staying with locals.
Johan was the key driver in getting himself to a very high level. The Swedish Club system and local coaching infrastructure gave him the opportunity to train himself to a world class level.
Johan, and I, are very interested in helping our kids excel at sport. It was the #1 topic for our call.
0-2 years old: we are a swim family, our babies all started out very comfortable in the water. If you want your kids to swim then, ideally, continue their natural-born comfort via positive experiences in the water, from birth.
2-6 years old
Movement skills via gymnastics – we didn’t progress into pre-team, very basic balance, agility and movement for all our kids
Swimming – a swim lesson, once a week, every week – from a coach, who wasn’t us.
Soccer Tots – from preschool age, coordination, bit of running, general play
Preschool – three years, play-based preschool where they learned skills to get along with other kids – early socialization in a play-based environment
7-12 years old
Just like Johan, lots of different sports: Thai Boxing, Jiu Jitsu, Indoor Climbing, Swimming, Soccer, Hiking, Running, Downhill Skiing, Uphill Skiing, Water Polo, Indoor Skiing
Some sports come-and-go, continue at least once per week swimming lesson.
Family policy is “do something” – we are willing to change what they do each season.
Lots of activity – competition mostly absent
In this phase, build self-confidence.
Two examples are indoor climbing and skiing. Both sports involve: movement skills, problem solving, fear management and young kids can be better than many adults. Huge confidence boosters for our crew.
No judges, no scoring, we SHARE athletic experiences with our kids.
Something a little different.
Summer Swim League from a very early age (5 yo) for each of our kids.
Intense 10 week summer season where they swim M-F and have a dual meet on Saturday
Touch the water ~80 days across their summer holiday
Finals event with 100s of kids, gives them big venue experience
Positive early race experience by winning ribbons at the dual meets, and eventually medals at the Finals event
Teen Years – like Johan, specialize if THEY want.
Our only policy is that everyone does something, including us.
Our oldest is a swim specialist and soon-to-be 14 yo. She still does extracurricular cross-country running, track and skiing. Her summer swim focus, continues since 5 yo.
We only have negative-control.
In other words, we can screw things up, but we cannot make it happen.
What makes it happen?
Wide range of movement skills
An environment to excel – access to skilled coaches and motivated teammates
The child’s, and eventually the teen’s, inherent drive
It’s a long road to the top!
Final questions => be brutally honest with yourself…
What do I want for my kids, and why do I want it?
A lifelong enjoyment of daily exercise NOT a self-identity wrapped up in winning!
Am I seeking to compete, or win, through them?
I want to enjoy nature alongside them. Many parents care far too much about results.
Understand my values & biases
We try to keep our kids, and ourselves, grounded by exposure to a WIDE range of field strengths. There is a benefit from getting our butts kicked every so often.
As parents, we are mostly positively reinforcing.
We offer immediate, negative feedback (and event venue removal) when we witness poor sportsmanship. We’ve left sports when we didn’t like the peers.
Our oldest (13 soon) started year round swim team at the end of last summer.
In Boulder, it’s not unusual for 8-10 year olds to be doing double workouts, and competing at a high level in multiple sports. We have some very well trained middle schoolers.
My approach is different => we want to leave room so performance will improve all the way from child to adult.
Leave the athlete somewhere to go => improve from 12 to 21 and beyond.
With a motivated kid, this means my role is holding back the pace of progression so the athlete has a better chance to reach their full potential and enjoy the benefits of lifelong exercise.
When To Go Year Round
When the kids were little, we didn’t specialize. Our younger kids still do a wide range of sport. The idea here is to develop a range of skills.
Racing is a skill.
While we didn’t ramp training load, all my kids have been racing fast since they were 5 yo. Summer swim league was the venue.
They love it and are building an invisible edge. Invisible to them but my lack of racing skills was obvious when I started competing as an adult…
The ability to go way past reasonable, stay there, then go further
This spills into their endurance when it comes to learning capacity.
Summer swim league easily splits into three types of racing… where you’ll crush, about right, where you will be crushed (hopefully not too hard).
Early specialization has the field strength too strong, too early.
I’m a potted-plant parent and give very little feedback. It helps that I’m clueless when it comes to swimming really fast!
I make no effort to remember their times so I’m genuinely impressed every time they race.
You went so fast!
My main area of input is: (a) encouraging the kids to be nice to the new/slower/different people they come across; and (b) fielding off-the-wall questions about sex and human development. Our daughter is learning a lot (from being tossed in with older kids).
I also make sure we remember every athlete ends up back in the “real world” at the end of their career.
Boys & Men
We were fortunate to replace Uncle Andy with another male swim coach. Having male character models for my son does a lot for his motivation to attend.
JiuJitsu is coming back this week (male coaches) and his swim coach works part-time as a wilderness firefighter.
The cool factor matters to him, and me, when I think back to my own development.
Science Wednesday was Plastic Milk – the girls weren’t interested and opted out – Axel enjoyed the session.
We’re going to take a break from experiments for a week and build ourselves a Volcano!
Workout Thursday saw Axel do more in 20-minutes than I can do in 25-minutes.
It’s a pattern you can do at home: (a) sandbag getup and run to the next room, repeat 4x; then 20 squat jumps (step down, never jump backwards) => keep rolling continuous.
Body slammed himself on the bench on the final rep of his 9th round (180 jumps total).
True savagery – once we were sure he hadn’t cracked a rib, we shared a laugh.
My daughter and I have been butting heads with her math.
This must happen to other families so I’ll share the workaround we discovered.
Like their Dad, my kids are good at pretending they understand when they have absolutely no frickin’ clue!
As you can see from the world around you, being clueless isn’t usually a problem. However, it is a suboptimal method to learn new math concepts via Zoom call.
In a typical school, the learning rate is slow enough that most of the kids figure things out on their own. At the Byrn Family Academy of Personal Excellence, we’ve been learning at a faster rate.
I didn’t realize how much faster until I noticed our youngest was nearly finished Unit Three of next year’s math. Five weeks to do half a year’s math curriculum => keeping things in perspective, it’s Grade Two and I give the kids supplemental lessons when they ask me about concepts. We’re not blazing AP Calculus but the pace for our Grade Four and Grade Six is legit.
With the new concepts, our oldest was reprinting the assignments on a clean sheet and handing in 100% correct work. Behind the scenes, I had been subjected to a half hour of tears and abuse => “Sweetie, it’s math, our opinions don’t change the answer.”
Anyhow, we both got sick of the struggle. She has no interest in receiving lessons from me => “Just tell me the answer, Dad!”
Not being able to teach is frustrating because I’m a great teacher! However, the goal is for student to learn, not the teacher to teach!
Family Value => It is OK to say “no.”
On the basis of “relationship before all else,” I resigned.
My resignation resulted in more tears. She’d rather struggle through with me than admit she doesn’t understand with her teacher.
So, we struck a truce…
Side by side, we review
When I find an error, she works through again
We arrive at the step that’s causing problems
Chip away until she gets it right
So far, no more tears and I don’t feel an ulcer coming on.
Spending years crafting a desired outcome is something I do better than most.
It’s not just inside my marriage where I seek to influence outcome – I’ve been building a mountaineering partner. Since my son was two years old, he’s loved going uphill.
The “up” has never been a problem. In those early days, it was the “down” where he’d flame out. Back then, I’d never take him further than I could carry him out. We used to negotiate when the shoulder rides would start.
We’re into another hiking season and I wanted to share some ideas about developing your kids.
Last season, I carried everything, all the time. When I tried to get him to help out, the joy of the hike drained out of him. This led to some heavy, heavy days.
Over the winter, I adapted my training program so I could tolerate the loads.
This year, we’re trying something new. To change our view on weight, I’m leading by example and carrying extra water to every summit.
Weight is a privilege. The picture above represents ~25 pounds of privilege. 😉
Seeing me carry, had the desired psychological outcome and he’s been asking me to carry “more.”
Two things are required to earn the right to carry:
Beat me to the summit
Don’t fall on the way down
The not falling is tougher than it sounds. Our mental cue is “walk like a boss” => wide stance, toes down the mountain, stand tall. It’s easy for a minute.
Less easy for an hour while discussing the finer points of the latest Clone Wars season or estimating Chewbacca’s age.
Dad, Chewie is in every movie, I can’t figure it out…
With lockdown, my full program has become visible to the kids. They noticed that I do a lot of strength training. Two (out of three) asked to join. So they’ve been doing some supplemental work to our hiking program.
I made light sandbags for them. We do burpees, short runs, clean & press, keg lifts… Because their bags are light, they can run circles around me (literally). They get a kick out of being “faster than Dad” and that keeps them coming back for more.
Our youngest (below) is working with an orange dry-bag I filled with clothes. It looks HUGE but doesn’t weigh much. My son had bag envy – his is filled with pea gravel.
Let everyone be strong is a lesson I learned from Scott Molina.
Be sure you let your kids be strong and find their win. It helps build their internal motivation to persist.
As for the program we are:
following a gradual, weekly progression
doing it locally before considering any travel
including a mixture of too easy, just right and challenging routes
inserting easy days so we bounce back
making sure we get consistent sleep
If you think the above sounds like the approach used by a gold-medal coach then you’d be right. It was taught it to me early in my triathlon career.
I special ordered a black mask from our oldest. Combined with blue-iridium sunglasses, a baseball hat and a hunting knife… we don’t have any problems getting folks to yield on the trail.
Foremost, because America need more people wearing masks. Be the change.
Secondly, because we might be on some crowded routes when the high mountains open up. Get sick later.
Finally, because it’s going to make life above tree-line seem a whole lot easier when we take them off.
Over multi-year time horizons, we have tremendous influence on the direction of our life.
My son is 9 and we can hike any route I want in the Rockies.
Be willing to inconvenience yourself (today) to help the people in your life become what you wish for them (tomorrow).
It was the family’s first water polo tournament this past weekend.
It’s worth spending time to understand what YOU want from sport. This will let you see if your desires line up with the reality of your sport-of-choice.
I’ve seen enough to decide it’s best if I focus primarily on my kids’ sport.
I have one overriding goal for my kids.
Create an enduring positive association with exercise.
Former athletes, bitter athletes, non-athletes… they can lack the positive association and it costs them.
It is easy to get distracted by winning, skill development, playing time, parent board politics…
Create the positive association!
So, when I watch:
Sit passively and try to learn what’s going on => my kids don’t do “my” sports
Very little feedback => only positive, given 1-on-1, after they’ve slowed down from the event
Be seen in the last third of practice (it’s the only part they remember) => use the first 2/3rds of practice to do something useful => I buy groceries then read a book
Phone put away (ideally in airplane mode – warn your spouse you won’t be taking pictures or answering questions)
Listen to, and work through, coaches => reinforce a consistent message => you need a team (and school) culture that matches what you teach at home => if your teen tracks into a single sport then her team becomes a key reference point, at an important transitional point in her life
Ample healthy snacks afterwards => do not train the “exercise-sugar-reward” cycle, as it will haunt them forever!
Drive them with no music, no electronics => create a forum to ask about life issues => no taboo topics, everyone gets to speak (or not speak)
If you’d predicted that I would enjoy doing the above, even three years ago, then I would have said you were high.
The fact that I look forward to these times shows I am incapable of predicting where life will take me!
Take the above together:
Dad is there
Dad’s not on his phone
Dad talks about anything
Food rewards are healthy snacks => strong food
Dad is always happy to see me afterwards
Building these habits was a major pain in the rear.
The phone habit is a tough one!
I’ll end with a story.
My son is the youngest on the team and he has a concern, he might drown.
Bro, there’s no way you’re going to drown. You’re going to pass out and that’s no big deal.
I’ll Superman into the pool, we’ll pull you out and I’ll stay with you until you wake up.