Have you fallen for this youth sports myth? Your kids must be playing sports early to have a chance at success later on in high school and potentially college.
I’ve done some research and discovered some information that busts that myth clean out of the water. Here’s what I’ve learned.
Be Wary of Preschool Sports
I didn’t say don’t do them, I said be careful. Be picky. Do your homework before you automatically sign them up at 3 for the pee-wee soccer league or the AAU basketball team (yes, I’ve seen 3-year-olds playing club basketball!)
The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends waiting until age 6 before introducing team sports, saying that few kids understand the idea of teamwork until then. Instead, preschoolers should spend most of their time in free play — running, jumping, chasing.
However, no two kids grow at the same rate so don’t automatically rule out sports just because your child is in preschool. Just be very very picky. You want a team or league that is totally all about fun and running around to get exercise. You want their experience to be so fun that they want to keep playing.
Just remember that a preschooler’s attention span is short. He or she will only retain a little bit of instruction and definitely will not be learning any in-depth strategy. The emphasis should not be on winning or losing but on having a great time and if the coach can teach other values, such as sharing and taking turns, then it could be a great experience.
Some parents think, “Oh my kid is a natural athlete” just because he or she can run around, is quick and can throw a ball farther than a few feet. So the first thing they look to do is start them in an organized sport in hopes of nurturing that athleticism.
Hear me loud and clear, mom and dad: you don’t have to put your child into organized sports so they can develop their “natural skills.” Don’t be in a hurry. Let them play, let them experience the fun of sports, organized or not. The first step to developing an athlete is to instill in them the love of sport. You don’t have to do that in an organized experience.
Specialization Does Not Guarantee Success in Sports
Brook DeLench from Momsteam.com lists 9 Reasons Against Early Specialization
Just as parents who drill their second-grader on questions from the Scholastic Aptitude Test have lost sight of the fact that the best way to prepare a child for college isn’t to teach by rote but to raise a child who loves to learn, the best way to prepare a child to be a successful high school athlete, in my view, is to instill a love of sports, not to apply so much pressure on him at an early age by exposing him to the stress of ultracompetitive elite sports programs that he comes to see sports not as fun but as a job, burns out, or suffers overuse injuries that, in some cases, result in permanent physical impairment (such as early arthritic changes in a knee after reconstructive surgery for a torn ACL, the risk of which, at least one study suggests, is linked to early specialization)
DeLench claims that children who specialize in a sport “account for 50% of overuse injuries in young athletes according to pediatric orthopedic specialists”. She cites several studies that all come to the same conclusion: children who commit to one sport at a young age are often the first to quit, and suffer a lifetime of consequences.
John O’Sullivan, author of Changing the Game Project adds some very eye-opening facts to this discussion:
- Prior to age 12: 80% of time should be spent in deliberate play and in sports OTHER THAN the chosen sport!
- Age 13-15: 50/50 split between a chosen sport and other athletic pursuits
- Age 16+: Even when specialization becomes very important, 20% of training time should still be in the non-specialized sport and deliberate play.
Your Child Doesn’t Have to Follow Tiger Woods’ Example
Just because Tiger Woods started playing golf at the age of two doesn’t mean your child has to follow suit if he wants to succeed. Here’s an impressive list that proves my point:
Danny Kanell, former FSU quarterback and now an ESPN analyst didn’t start playing football until he was a junior in high school. My husband was one of his coaches.
Tim Duncan transitioned from swimming to playing basketball while in high school and ended up with 5 NBA titles.
Michael Oher, whose story was told in the movie The Blind Side, started playing football in high school. He’s still active in the NFL.
Soccer start Alex Morgan did not begin playing soccer until she was 13.
Dikembe Mutombo did not begin playing competitive basketball until he was a student at Georgetown University. He learned quickly and ended up becoming an eight-time NBA All-Star.
Hakeem Olajuwon first played basketball at the age of 15, but quickly became a prodigy in the sport and ultimately became recognized as one of the top five centers of all time.
And here’s one that blows me away: Antonio Gates was signed by the San Diego Chargers in 2003 after not playing one snap of college football (he played basketball). He went on to make eight Pro Bowl appearances while in the NFL.
Karen Legg did not learn to swim until the age of 13, yet managed to represent Great Britain at the 2000 Summer Olympics and won two career gold medals at the FINA World Swimming Championships.
Each of these athletes played because they loved the game and were skilled athletes, not because their parents signed them up in preschool.
Playing Sports Early is Not a Must for Success
If you want your child to really be successful, focus instead of helping them develop a love for sports. And if that love continues to grow, it will be accompanied by motivation to improve and develop stronger skills.
Is it Softball Season in Your House?
It is in ours!
My 27-year-old is having a blast coaching and we love watching her!
But if you are a softball mom, I know what you’re feeling on the other side of the bench.
As a softball mom for 14 years, I know the ups and downs, the struggles and joys, and I’ve written a survival guide to help you and your daughter be winners!