Understanding the adolescent athlete
There’s something special and unique about the love that young people have for sport: the intrinsic drive they hold to have fun and achieve their best on the sporting paddock – for themselves and their teammates.
It’s that period of life before external motivators like paycheques and contracts start to complicate things and affect athletic enjoyment.
“Adult athletes operate in such a high-pressure environment, where I think sometimes external factors can take away from the joy of sport,” says Charles Dudley, a strength and conditioning coach at St Joseph’s Nudgee College and PhD candidate at ACU.
“In the adolescent realm, those factors are rarely an issue – it’s just a pure and unfiltered love for the sport they’re playing.”
In recent years, Charles has worked with athletes in several team sports, including the Melbourne Rebels elite pathways, and the Chinese Olympic ice hockey program.
But he gets a bigger kick out of coaching younger athletes who are about to get the ball rolling on their careers.
“I really love seeing that unbridled joy that kids, teenagers and young adults get out of playing a sport,” says Charles, who competed in rugby and rowing as a youngster and has spent countless hours training in the gym.
“Every young athlete has dreams and aspirations, and good coaching plays a huge role in helping adolescent athletes to fulfil their potential.
“As a coach, being able to play a part in that process is incredibly rewarding. It’s rewarding when you see it come off and they do reach their goals, and even if they don’t get there athletically, you’ve armed them with skills that will help them to thrive and develop as leaders in society.”
For the love of sport
In early 2021, having completed his online Master of High Performance Sport at ACU, Charles embarked on his PhD with the SPRINT Research Centre.
Under the supervision of some of Australia’s leading sports scientists, Charles will conduct a series of studies that will shed light on the psychological and physical loads that adolescent athletes experience, and the impact these might have on performance and injury.
While Charles was first drawn to coaching through a love of sports like rugby union and weightlifting, in recent years he has developed a fascination with pushing the boundaries of human performance.
“It’s a really interesting puzzle, how you commonly get two different individuals or teams with the exact same training program, and they’ll have completely different responses to it,” he says.
“The question that arises for me is, ‘What are some of the factors that might cause athletes to respond so differently?’ There’s a lot of existing research that addresses that question with the adult athlete, but do we see those same patterns in younger sportspeople? Or are there unique things that impact adolescent athletes and sporting teams?”
The ultimate goal of Charles’s research is to give performance coaches a better understanding of the factors that affect performance and injury in adolescent athletes.
The PhD will also give his own career a boost, allowing him to solve real-world problems through scientific research, and to apply that knowledge in practice as a performance coach.
“I’d like to live in both worlds, so I can keep one foot in the research side of things, and have the other foot in the industry coaching athletes,” Charles says.
And while Charles believes he’ll “always be involved with rugby”, when it comes to coaching, it’s not the specific sport that matters most.
“I’ll always find a pitch to be at on a Saturday morning, because I love rugby,” he says.
“But what’s more important to me is being surrounded by people who love what they do, so the athletes have the motivation to keep working, and the colleagues that surround you all push each other to get better.
“To me, an environment like this is perfect, and the sport comes second to that.”
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