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How Did They Get There? 2016 Olympians' Youth Sports Training

Posted by Ariella Ford | Aug 16, 2016 5:05:51 PM

Successful Youth Sports Training - Getting to the Olympics


From Michael Phelps’ record breaking 23 medals to the USA Gymnastics Fierce Five, the 2016 Rio Olympics will go down in record books. As I’ve watched these amazing athletes accomplish what most individuals can only imagine achieving, I’ve asked myself “How did they get there?” In taking a look at the training efforts of three USA 2016 Olympians, Michael Phelps, Allyson Felix and Simone Biles, there are three key components that seem to play a major part in youth sports training that lead to Gold - the attitude, the practice and hours of work, and the right coach or mentor.


Michael Phelps | Years of Practice and Dedication to the Sport

Phelps, who most recently won a gold medal for the 200m individual medley, is the most decorated olympian in history with 23 medals.

Swimming since age seven, Phelps took to water at a young age, but not without hurdles. He was initially afraid to put his face in the water, leading him to master the backstroke (The Famous People). Phelps was also diagnosed with attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) at a young age, another hurdle in some ways, but he was able to use swimming as an energy release (The Famous People).

Phelps has worked with the same coach, Bob Bowman, for practically his entire career, from age 11 years old until 27 years (Swim Swam). This helped keep his technique consistent over the years, but also allowed Phelps to study and improve his craft.

Phelps’ long-time relationship with trainer Bob Bowman demonstrates the importance of recognizing the potential in young athletes. It is up to youth sports club coaches and trainers to identify a unique talent and help turn that talent into something great. Phelps trained with Bowman at the North Baltimore Aquatic Club, and Bowman instantly recognized his capability and potential. Bowman started Phelps on an intense training program (The Famous People).

Phelps’ strength and conditioning coach, Keenan Robinson, has also shared tips for youth athlete development, emphasizing "a multi-faceted approach to athletic development and early emphasis on the right kinds of dryland training.” For youth sports training, Robinson explains that this can even include activities such as tag, kickball, and ultimate frisbee (USA Swimming).

Watch 11 year old Michael Phelps win a 200 Freestyle in 1997:

Simone Biles | The Coach-Athlete Relationship

Simone Biles has remained undefeated in all-arounds for nearly three years and has now come out to win three gold medals and one bronze for gymnastics at the 2016 olympics. Biles was born in 1997, in Columbus, Ohio and was adopted by her maternal grandfather, Ron, and his wife, Nellie at age six (Heavy).

Biles’ first experience with gymnastics was on a field trip to Bannon's Gymnastix in northwest Houston at age six (LA Times). “While there I imitated the other gymnasts, and Coach Ronnie noticed. The gym sent home a letter requesting that I join tumbling or gymnastics” explained Biles (Bio). "They said, 'We have discovered a gymnast" (LA Times).

Biles’ coach Aimee Boorman has worked with Biles since she first started training at Bannon’s Gymnastix, over 10 years ago (Heavy). Boorman had never coached an elite athlete, demonstrating that the right coach or mentor to help an athlete rise to the top can be any youth athletic coach who believes in that athlete and is ready to dedicate his or her time.

Biles has been quoted talking about her relationship with Boorman saying, “I always say she’s like the second mom to me because she’s been there since I was like 8 years old, and so that’s 10 years that she’s always been by my side. I’m very fortunate to have a coach that I got to stay with all this time” (Heavy).

Thanks to hard work, a passion for the sport, and a dedicated support system, Biles is the first U.S. woman to win the Olympics on vault and the first to win three Olympic golds in a single Games in gymnastics (LA Times).

Watch Simone Biles performing a fun and polished routine in 2009:

Allyson Felix | The Right Mindset

Felix is the most decorated woman in U.S. Track & Field history having won four gold medals in previous olympics. Felix fell short of winning gold in this year’s 400M dash by just .07 seconds at the 2016 Olympic games.

Born in 1985 in Santa Clarita, California, unlike Phelps and Biles, Felix did not have a childhood full of training. Felix did not begin running track until her freshman year of high school. She was given the nickname “chicken legs” by her high school teammates because of her long, skinny legs (USATF).

Felix started her athletic career in basketball before running track in high school (Bio), showing that a well-rounded athlete can start-off focusing on multiple sports to build work-ethic and stamina. In addition, Felix also demontrates the right mindset and attitude for young athletes to take on in practice. This attitude is one of determination, but also one of truly enjoying athletics. In a conversation at Project Play Summit (Felix is a Right to Play Ambassador), she discussed youth sports and her experience saying she was “Always moving. Always having fun” (The Aspen Institute). 

“When I first came out for track, I didn't know anything about the sport. Everything was new to me and I was really raw, but the success I had early on got me excited and made me want to devote more time to it. Doing well right off the bat was a really cool feeling” Felix said in an interview with Stack.

But Felix also admits she didn’t always have the current drive that she has when it comes to her training saying, “During my first year, I just did the standard things everyone else did at practice; I wasn't proactive.” It wasn’t until her second year of high school track that she said she started eating healthier and spending more time in the weight room. “Once I started showing more interest in the sport, I noticed an immediate improvement” explained Felix (Stack).

Felix went straight into professional Track & Field rather than competing for the University of Southern California in 2003 (NY Times). Her Olympic coach, Bob Kersee, has trained some of America’s top athletes, including Jackie Joyner-Kersee, Dawn Harper and Valerie Ann Brisco-Hooks (Motley Health).

Watch Allyson Felix set national prep record in 200M at 2003 CIF Meet:

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Topics: Latest in Sports News, Youth Athletics

Written by Ariella Ford

Ariella is the Marketing Director at Upper Hand, a sports software company aiming to simplify front and back-end office tasks, by providing cutting-edge marketing and registration tools, and business intelligence, that enable unsurpassed performance for sports businesses across the nation.