Norway has a very different approach to youth sports. Thank you to Paul Waldie and The Globe and Mail for reminding us that we have a lot to learn from Norway. Not because they crush it every Olympics, but because their entire youth sports system was set up for success. Which allows a country of just 5 million people to dominate the Olympic Games.
Norway and youth sports
Did you know:
- Norway won the 2018 Winter Olympic Games with a record 39 medals (SERIOUSLY??!!)
- They won more winter olympic medals than any other country with 368 (WHAT??!!)
- And is home to the #8 tennis player in the world, #10 golfer, #1 chess player, gold medal winning beach volleyball team and world record holder in the 400-meter hurdles Karsten Warholm.
- In the 2022 Winter Olympics, which ends in a few days, Norway is at the top of the medal stand with a total of 26. Just to give you an idea of where the United States is right now, we have 18 medals and are in 3rd place.
What can we learn from Norway’s approach to youth sports:
Children are encouraged to play as many sports as possible.
Why this is important: Frequently in the US, young athletes are playing a single sport all year round as they strive for excellence. However, Norways approach is for athletes to play different sports throughout the year, develop their physical abilities in a variety of ways, and avoid overuse injuries. Research shows this leads to healthier and more successful athletes.
Clubs do not keep league standings for children under 13.
Why this is important: Too often in the US, clubs are vying for the same players. So they put a lot of emphasis on wins and league standings. However, for the younger players this “win at all costs” mentality distracts from the athletes drive for excellence. Avoiding league standings allows teams to compete for wins while keeping the emphasis on individual and team excellence.
Almost all clubs are run by volunteers.
Why this is important: Since Norway’s youth sports programs are typically run by volunteers, it keeps the costs low. That creates an environment of inclusion so kids can play in any sport they wish. This is in stark contrast to the “pay to play” industry in the US.
Norway only has one national governing body: Norwegian Confederation of Sports.
Why this is important: The US has an extremely fragmented hierarchy governing youth sports activities. And no organization has much power. Plus the US has sport-specific national and even state governing bodies. All of this makes it nearly impossible to innovate or mandate meaningful change.
Athletes take ownership of their own development. Their coaches are more like mentors and less like dictators.
Why this is important? In the US, many coaches take a very rigid approach to training their players. This creates a dynamic where the coach owns the team’s development journey. However, in Norway, coaches provide direction and mentorship enabling their players to take ownership of their own development.
It’s no surprise Norway is having great success at this year’s Winter Olympics. And if you’d like to read the full article about their youth sports culture, click here.
Author: Ian Goldberg, CEO from iSport360 and Girl Dad.