Highlights of the episode:
- Tips for parents of junior athletes
- Actionable things parents can do for their kids
- Experience with working with parents as a coach
- His key pillars when developing junior athletes
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Jack: Next we have Michael Crichton, the co-founder of Melbourne Fitness & Performance, located in Footscray, Melbourne. His topic would be junior athlete development. Welcome, Mike.
Michael: Thanks, Jack. Great to be here, mate.
Jack: Well, let’s dive in, mate. Talk us through, starting with parents. Tips for parents of junior athletes, what are some important things to take into account?
Michael: It’s a good one. And it’s one that you always have to think about when you’re running a facility like ours. You get a lot of kids that come in from the young age of nine years old. And they’re going to be with you all the way up until they become professional or semi-pro or move on from here to big organizations overseas, wherever it may be. So, establishing relationships with parents and collaborating with them in terms of developing that team ethos from the start is really important.
We like to make sure that they’re integrated into everything that we’re trying to achieve with the coaching and training at the facility that carries over into what they can assist the athlete with. I think they obviously play a big role because without them the kids aren’t going to be able to chase the goal of becoming an athlete. A team that they help them set up, the structure they place and the people that they get to help develop them as athletes is critical.
So, we always try to bridge the gap. Something that we’ve done recently is we teamed up with ‘The Sporting Parent’. And we actually started to use that network. And we ran an event and a night where we used our network to allow parents to try and learn about what it’s like to be a parent. We wish we had all the answers as S&C coaches, but we know that there’re people that specialize in that. So, if you haven’t heard of that book, look out for it by Nathan Parnham. It’s a great book. And if you are this year, push it as well.
And it’s something that will help parents understand what it is that athletes or junior athletes are going through, because it’s a big time of their life and not all of them make it. And that’s okay. It’s very competitive in the sporting world these days. But what we know that happens from developing these routines, relationships and healthy lifestyle, training and so forth, is the confidence factor, which I think carries over into whatever it is you do in your career, whatever it is. You may go into an office job, you may stay in the sports industry, you may become a coach. But I believe that what you develop in the team environment and training hard as a junior athlete will help you with whatever it is you choose to do in the future.
So, it is important for parents to understand that they are the role model at home, away from the places where they take their kids to learn about the sports, to train and to connect with professionals, what we do here at MFP, and to make sure that they actually play part of the role. And it’s hard because a lot of parents invest the money into the children and the time and effort into them. And then don’t save any time, effort or money for themselves. I’m a big firm believer that they need to lead by example and actually have and help develop these healthy relationships when it comes to everything that we do to build athletes.
Jack: That’s amazing, mate. Thanks for sharing the insight on behind the scenes and as well as internally, how you guys manage it through education, like you mentioned with ‘The Sporting Parent’, the book, but also through getting the parents involved and how important it is to lead through actions. Love that concept.
For the parents listening in, what would be some actionable things that you can start with in that space? From the role model point of view for your job?
Michael: Having a healthy relationship with exercise and nutrition as well. You know, they’re trying to enforce on their kids: ‘Oh, you’ve got to do all your training. You’ve got to go to sleep. You’ve got to eat well and things.’ But actually having a healthy relationship with yourself will help with your child as they’re developing.
Monkey see, monkey do. They learn from the environment they’re in. And it can go a long way to helping them establish the off the field behaviors, which obviously has a big impact on success with athletes, because we know it’s the total package. And the more competitive sport’s getting, the more important it is to establish the off the field behaviors early in the child’s development.
And it doesn’t mean you have to be perfect, but it just means you have to be aware. Be prepared and obviously take some time to learn how you can assist all the things that are associated with healthy athlete development. Because at the end of the day, we don’t just want to create athletes, we want to create good people in the community. So, that’s a big part of why we do this. And that comes back to that team culture community that we create at our facilities to instill those good beliefs and behaviors, that carry over into you as a person.
Jack: For the coaches listening and facility owners, it is a touchy one, obviously, managing parents of the kids that you’re training. And like you said, it’s a big sacrifice. They’re driving long distances and paying good money for their kids. But how has your experience working with parents in this form been over the years?
Michael: I think in the private industry we’re quite lucky, because it’s a choice. Parents can choose to come here. It’s not just a local sports team down the road that they have to go to, because it’s close by and so forth. They have a choice to go to facilities, like the Hartford* facilities that we’re seeing these days. So, if you create rapport relationships and develop that sort of like ‘it’s more than just a coach’, you actually start to become a friend, someone who they can ask questions that they need answers to.
Like everyone who is probably sitting here, I think we’re the only industry in the world, in this service industry, where it’s face-to-face work, where people feel comfortable messaging you after 9:00 PM. Randomly, for checking in with a session, asking a question about this, confiding into you about something. ‘There’s something wrong with my kid. Can you help?’ So, I think actually being aware of that and developing the relationship with the parent and the athlete that is a bit more than just ‘I’m your coach and that’s it’, like the local sports team down the road. Something that we find is critical to the growth of our facility.
Jack: And what of effort for the coaches, mate? I know you’ve got lots of great coaches underneath here.
Michael: I don’t recommend that parents message the coaches often. Not often in my place.
Jack: That’s what airplane mode is for on the phone.
Michael: Absolutely. No, sometimes you just gotta do what you gotta do. That comes, I guess, with running facilities like this. It’s not an Institute of Sport where they’re chosen, it’s a place where they’re paying to be and choosing to go to.
I think, when it comes to coaches, it’s really about building connection. And don’t be afraid to build connection with young athletes that is more of a friend-coach role as well, because that will help you to learn more about the person that you’re working with and not just the athlete and the sport that you’re dealing with.
And I think that will then help you later, because at the end of the day, this is a business that needs to be successful and it is driven by successful revenue streams. If I can keep an athlete from the age of nine through the entirety of their career, the amount of money that they spend with me is exponential. And the success of my company.
If I can also create that relationship and culture, that they feel a part of something that’s greater than just somewhere where they go for exercise, they’re going to tell their friends, who will tell their friends, who will then tell their friends. And we start to increase our network and opportunity for growth as a facility, because at the end of the day, we all want these amazing facilities that cost a lot of money.
What we need to be able to establish that there is some need to really connect and communicate with people, because connection is a big thing of what humans are about. And even junior athletes want to feel connected, want to feel a part of it. That’s what brings them back. So, a big thing we have here is: it doesn’t matter who you train with, it’s a team environment. I can be walking around the gym training. I’ll talk to everyone’s clients. I know stuff about them and everyone will connect in that culture.
The other one with coaches is, you’ve got to be open to everything and you have to be open-minded. It’s very hard to be one-way focused and to only have one mindset when it comes to people and behaviors in the industry, because in the private industry you’re going to be confronted with every scenario you can think of. And obviously that’s going to be critical to the success of your facility, of how you can deal with all the scenarios that you face.
Jack: Obviously it’s a huge topic, junior athlete development. But from a physical point of view, what are some key pillars that you guys pride yourself on in terms of athletes training in your facility?
Michael: I’ll just put down here: skills pay the bills. And when it comes to junior athlete development, we really want to integrate skills into every training session. We feel that it’s a big part of the overall development pathways of fine motor skills that carry over into performance-based athlete training, which is something that we want to layer later.
Which doesn’t mean that we’re not trying to improve their speed, their jump height or how far they can jump. It just means that we want to make sure that we’re layering skill development as well. So, jumping, landing, sprinting, change of direction, gymnastics, movement enhancement, injury resilience. It’s the way we have shifted to as well. As Chris was saying, we tend to not say prevention, because you can’t prevent everything, but we’d like to make people as resilient as they can be.
And you always want to have some sort of challenge or something that they can strive towards as well. Because we want to start creating the mindset that at some point in their junior athlete career they’re going to have to flip the switch: am I just participating or am I actually trying to win?
And when that matters is different for each sport and, obviously, the maturation of the athletes that you have. So, it’s critical to start to embrace that in the gym-based culture with the things that you are layering in their training, and not be afraid to test junior athletes as well.
Jack: Fantastic, mate. Thanks so much for jumping on, Mike, and presenting on junior athlete development. It’s a huge area that in Australia we’re doing great things. So, thank you for jumping on and sharing your experiences in the field, as well as knowledge, mate. For those that want to train in your facility, what’s the best place to get in contact?
Michael: teammfp.com.au is our website. And you can catch us on Instagram @melbfitperformance or @coachmike_mfp. Or you can follow any one of our team, because at the moment they’re all producing amazing content in social media.
Jack: Fantastic. Thanks, Mike.
Michael: To you as well, mate.