Why You Are Completely Wrong On Early Specialization, Part II

In Part I we introduced the concept and practice of Early Specialization in youth sports. I gave you some scientific evidence on why it’s destructive and varying your child’s sporting experience can be beneficial. Now in Part II, it’s time for a quick look at what we are doing in our own family to fight the good fight.

So now what?

If you managed to avoid the pressure from your child’s coach, and haven’t yet fallen victim to bad advice, I’ll humbly offer mine: Just let your kid be a kid. I’d recommend getting them active early and offering as much diversity in play as possible. Let your kids find out what they enjoy. It’s usually what they’re naturally best at, and often what a parent might least expect. For my own kids, I firmly believe in an early exposure to the following:

1. Early exposure to gymnastics, track, and swimming.

Gymnastics. Great because it encompasses so many things an “athlete” needs: balance, coordination, body awareness, and bodyweight strength. The best part is, there is so much that could be classified as “gymnastics” that you could do different things every day!

Track. Simplified it’s just running and jumping. Every body needs it – especially young girls. Thank you Barbara Drinkwater for finding a correlation between osteoporosis and physical activity (or lack there of) among girls, especially through their puberty years. The more a young girl hops, jumps, and pounds her bones, the greater she decreases her chance of osteoporosis in the future.

Swimming. From a mother’s standpoint, swimming not only acts as a safety measure, but it teaches so much to a child with very little impact to their body.

2. Mix it up.

Choose different sports often, and/or mix up the way you “train” for a certain sport often. That way the child will get exposure to different movements, different games, different types of exercise. In addition to being less damaging on a child’s body, you can also find out what your child really likes to do. Keep the games fun, upbeat and moving. There is nothing that drives me nuts more than watching a 6 year old “baseball/softball league” where the position players are standing around picking their nose. Young children should be moving their bodies, not wasting an hour standing around for 5 minutes of “sport interaction”.

3. Be a “Back Yard” All-American.

I love this one. For “athleticism”, you don’t always have to be playing “sports”. Just be a kid. Climb trees, swing on monkey bars (oh my, people might come after me for that one), make games up and play them with zest. Make obstacle courses, do cartwheels, invent the “base-basket-soccer-game which includes skills from each. Play dodgeball. When it’s raining, go outside and slide around. When it’s cold don’t be afraid to try skating on the (safe) ice pond in the neighborhood. When its hot see who can jump the highest over the sprinkler, or who can do the biggest jump/dive/front flip into the pool. Have your kids enjoy each and every season, each and every activity. Not only are you raising a child with a better chance to meet his/her athletic ceiling, but you are creating memories along the way. Special memories. Memories that will keep your child motivated.

Go figure.

I know I will be faced with a decision one day to “adopt a sport” or my child will be left off of the team. I really don’t know how I am going to calmly handle that. As a mother and former athlete, I look forward to the opportunity to somehow swim upstream and maybe even reverse the “specialization” mindset. It’s going to be a fight, but I am up for the challenge.
Who’s with me?

“Before kids can play like a pro, they must enjoy playing the game as a kid”. – Steve Locker