Youth sports experts offer insight, direction for growing athletes

Camps, training programs play key role for kids and parents

Lots of people say the right things when they talk about youth sports.
The coaches who work most closely with youngsters do the right things, too.

"The young kids are, the less advance or technical we are when we work with them," said Napa's CTS Strength & Conditioning owner and trainer John Cortese. "When a kid is really young, all we do is really basic training with light weights. We're seeing lots of kids with overuse injuries at 10, 11 years old. That shouldn't happen."

The most prominent member of the youth sports community in Sonoma County feels that adults might be losing touch with what youngsters want and need.

"I believe youth sports are over-coached and under-taught," said
University of Sports owner Aaron Locks, who has worked with more than 100,000 youngsters since opening
the Rohnert Park health club and youth sports organization.

"There is so much focus on winning that other important
things get overlooked. We think the youth sports experience should be
positive, active and fun. We stress reinforcement and encouragement at
every one of our camps and clinics."

Cortese has the chance in Napa to let youngsters figure out what it took him time to learn as a youth.

"It took me awhile to realize that my two loves were track and field and football," Cortese said. "I think kids need to be involved in lots of sports and to be active. What we do in strength and conditioning is actually like another sport itself, so we want kids to come in here and be enthusiastic and excited about what we do for them."

 Locks once operated youth basketball camps for the Golden State Warriors.

"In 1989, I stopped working for the Warriors," Locks said. "We were
giving autographs, not teaching sports. I opened the University of
Sports  so that families can work out and enjoy fitness together. Our
first year, we only had 127 kids and three weeks of basketball camps
and two weeks of baseball camps."

University of Sports focuses on athletes in
basketball, volleyball, football, baseball, cheerleading, softball and

"We talk about how we can maximize the youth sports experience," Locks
said. "Every kid who comes through our program learns to be
accountable for their actions. Say, a young person comes to our
basketball camp, they'll get 30 hours of instruction.  That youngster
will come away a better basketball player, have a better basketball IQ
and be a better human being."

Cortese feels that Napa athletes also need to address their entire body in sport or during workouts.

"We see kids coming in here with tight hips or tight shoulders," he said. "They should be able to move their whole body. So, when we deal with younger kids, we don't do any sport-specific training. We want to make sure they can move their body in all directions for all sports."

While Cortese works with the body, Locks pays attention to the emotional value youth sports provide. Heteaches youngsters to dream big, work hard and enjoy life.

"We tell people that we don't promise you the stars, but that we'll
teach  you to learn the skills to shine on your own," Locks said. "We
don't promise kids that they'll make their high school teams. We
guarantee that they'll have fun and learn about the game."

Lead sports director Paige Dumont, a former Sonoma State University star who played professional baseball, has worked with Locks for years.

"Aaron and I work a lot harder to help kid develop better attitudes and effort," Dumont said. "We emphasize fundamental skills and teamwork."

Dumont said the "Word of the Day" is a key at every U of Sports camp.

"We give the campers a new word every day to talk about and think about -- Respect, Truth and Honesty, Teamwork and Fun," Dumont said. "Then, we encourage them to relate how they can put those words into practice, not just in sports, but in school and at home.

While U of Sports camps focus on skills that can lead a player to lead
a team to victory, the program pays most attention to helping each
athlete advance personally in their chosen sport.

"We keep things positive. If kids get negative, negative, negative --
they won't get there." Locsk sadi. "It's just human nature. If you get
cheered and encouraged, you'll get there eventually."

Locks uses how young athletes are treated after failing to achieve as an example of how to properly coach kids.

"When I played, our coach made us run as a punishment for making
mistakes," Locks said. "After awhile, I had no interest in running. We
never use basketball (or any sport) or running as a punishment. We
don't want kids to view running as punishment. At some point, there's
a need to focus on results, but if we get the kids to focus on effort,
they'll grow."

Don't think that Locks doesn't think kids need to take instruction seriously.

"Discipline, somehow, became a negative word in our society the last
few years," Locks said. "We get kids to buy in to what we teach. We
instill discipline in different ways. We say, 'Eyes!' and clap twice.
We teach kids to stand with their toes on the line, looking at us when
we talk."

Dumont said that young athletes benefit most from youth sports camps.

"From kindergarten to about fifth grade, we really excel with youngsters," he said. 

Locks understands that a successful youth sports experience must
address parents, too.

"My No. 1 challenge is mom and dad," he admitted. "I like to use our
parents to help rather than sit and watch and complain.  If a kid is sitting in the back seat of the car driving home and hears his dad tell his mom that the coach was doing something wrong, the kid will hear it and that can create a
negative situation. We want the kids to hear 'one voice' when they
talk about our sports programs. So, we get the parents involved."

Cortese sees different types of parents while helping training youngsters.

"Some parents are very encouraging and want to motivate their kids," he said. "Some kind of stand back."

Locks and Cortese acknowledge that youth sports have become a profit-making
enterprise where parents have to make difficult decisions in choosing
programs for their children.

"It's a business, but it's not all about money," Locks said. "If I get 100 campers
at $1,000 each, that's $100,000. That's a pretty good income. But, I
never turn a kid away for lacking money to take part in a program.
We've given out more than $70,000 in scholarships to help kids.

"I truly believe I can make an impact on kids' lives and find a way to
make it positive."


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