I point to Dominic Thiem, a professional tennis player from Austria. Thiem was a successful player at the junior level, but a Wall Street Journal article from this summer details how he took a big step backward to get better.
When Thiem was just 11 years old, his coach, Gunter Bresnik, wanted him to ditch his two-handed backhand and switch to a one-handed backhand. It was a move for strategic purposes, but also part of a larger shift to make Thiem’s mindset aggressive instead of defensive.
According to the article, Thiem went from being ranked among the top three juniors in Austria to the 20s. He was losing to players that he previously defeated.
“I think I didn’t win a match for one, one-and-a-half years,” Thiem told the WSJ’s Tom Perrotta. “But Gunter already back then was thinking about me as a man, at the pro level.”
The long-term approach clearly paid off. Thiem reached the semifinals of the French Open this year, his first Grand Slam semi, and the 23-year-old rising star is now the No. 8 ranked men’s tennis player in the world.
How does this translate to lacrosse?
Are you the 11-year-old player that is content beating your opponent with your right hand while never working on your left?
Are you the coach that only lets the best players play in the key positions?
Are you the parent that pushes back when a coach tries to change your child’s techniques?
It’s much easier for a player in an individual sport like tennis to make the decision to focus on development over winning than it is in a team sport like lacrosse.
And that’s one of the dangers of emphasizing winning over development for younger players. Yes, players learn lessons from competing, but when does winning now start detracting from improving their future ability?
It’s one thing for a player to work on his or her left hand on the wall, but will he or she feel the freedom to use it in a game situation? Will a coach feel comfortable keeping reserves on the field when momentum is shifting away from them? Will parents be content with a tight loss that could have been a win if certain players didn’t get to play?
These are the questions we have to answer when shaping our children’s youth sports experience. Everything is a balancing act, but one thing is clear — long-term development should not be ignored while chasing short-term victories.
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