Youth sports performance is a multidimensional concept. At a participatory sports level, performance is focused on teaching the basic skills necessary to play a particular game, with the emphasis on the personal enjoyment of the youth, as an incentive to continue participation at either a higher level or as the athlete grows. At an elite-performance level, a range of issues are engaged, most of which center on the fact that a young athlete is not a miniature adult athlete, but rather an individual with needs that are unique to youth sports.
A youth is a person in the midst of physical and emotional transformations from child to adult. In virtually any sport, it is physically impossible for the youth to replicate adult performance, as the adolescent body is not fully developed in all aspects of the musculoskeletal system. For these reasons, the performance of a young athlete will be founded on a number of factors.
Young athletes are bombarded with media representations of professional athletes and how a particular sport should be played. Coaching a young athlete, in both individual and team sports, to train and to perform within their physical limitations is fundamental to ensuring sport enjoyment, a progressive skill improvement, and a reduction in the risk of injury.
Young athletes are less likely than adults to be able to self-motivate. Young athletes are more likely to become frustrated if they are unable to quickly master a particular sports technique. Motivation for the young person, particularly the correction of errors accompanied by positive reinforcement from coaches or supportive adults, is a useful method to keep the young athlete inspired to continue, particularly with training.
Stress is in many respects a far more debilitating factor with respect to the sports performance of the young athlete than with respect to an adult. Young people are subjected to stresses that emanate from a variety of sources—the stereotypical over-zealous parents and demanding, tyrannical coaches are not caricatures, but all too common examples of stress-generating forces. The peers of the athlete are also a part of the young athlete's environment that may exert an influence over how the athlete views his or her own performance as well as how he or she in fact performs.
These stress factors do not always present themselves directly, but in the manner in which the athlete responds to stress over time. Eating disorders, particularly among female athletes, are a common result of the negative self-image created in the athlete's mind concerning the ability to successfully compete. It is estimated that as many as 10% of all male high school athletes in the United States, and a lesser number of female athletes, experimented with anabolic steroids to improve their physical ability to perform.
When performance is overemphasized in a young athlete, the risk of burn out is heightened; burn out is a combination of physical and mental fatigue, usually induced in young athletes by a combination of competitive pressure and over-training.
Various scientific studies concerning how to ensure optimal youth sports performance suggest that making sure the athlete has an opportunity to play a number of different sports in adolescence is important. The thesis supporting a youth engaging in multiple sports applies to both the physical and mental aspects of sport. When youth have been encouraged to diversify their sports performance, there exists a much higher prospect of adult sports participation. When the young person plays a number of
Scientific research also reveals that in multidimensional sports such as the triathlon, while the elite-level athletes may come from one of the three particular disciplines of the sport, the athletes competing in the triathlon at a master's level (age 40 years and over) rarely specialized in swimming, cycling, or running as young athletes. In a similar fashion, studies conducted with respect to the typical participants in a marathon, over 40% of men and over 60% of female entrants did not run in any organized fashion prior to age 20. It is important that the young athlete not be directed into one sporting interest at the exclusion of all others to avoid a competitive plateau in the main activity, injury, or a change of interests.