The trend today in youth sports is an intense specialization in a single sport. Parents increasingly are looking at their young children trying to identify what the best sport is for their young athlete.
The chosen sport is then played to the exclusion of all other sports. Parents conditioned by watching 15-year-old girls compete for gold medals in Olympic gymnastics and figure skating conclude that for their child to be successful in sports they need to specialize in a particular sport by the age of ten or eleven.
This is a recent phenomenon that has led to the growth of club sports such as soccer, volleyball and basketball with seasons that seem to never end. Club teams combined with school teams leave little time to ever experience any other sports. This is in direct contrast with the past where kids played whatever sport was in season.
Is this early specialization mandatory for athletic success?
No. In fact, aside from figure skating and gymnastics early specialization is not the optimal way to go. Far too many young athletes are growing up focusing on sport-specific skills before they develop fundamental movement skills. Early specialization for most leads to burnout and the dropping out of organized sports at a still early age.
Without learning proper movement skills at the appropriate age athletes will never achieve a large degree of success, no matter how much they master the sport specific skills. Because these movement skills are lacking, many children are playing sports they are not prepared for physically.
On The Road To Injuries
This will lead to injuries down the road. This can be seen in Little League where pitchers are suffering elbow and shoulder injuries at an alarming rate. Right now women's sports on the collegiate and high school level are experiences an epidemic of non-contact ACL knee injuries.
Proper movement skills include agility, balance, coordination and speed the ABC's of athleticism. They will lay the foundation for all athletic success in the coming years. It is important to note that children have so-called sensitive periods for learning fundamental movement skills.
These periods need to be taken advantage of. Ages 9-12 are probably the most important for acquiring movement skills and laying the groundwork for later athletic success. If proper skill training is not developed by this age it is hard, if not impossible, to learn later on.
Learn The Fundamentals
Fundamental movement skills can be further broken down into four broad categories and for optimal athletic development pick activities that encompass all four areas. These consist of locomotion skills such as running and jumping, non-locomotion skills such as twisting, turning and balancing, manipulative skills including throwing, catching or kicking and movement awareness, knowing how to move ones body and how to orient it to others and objects.
The big question then is how are these fundamental skills best developed? The answer is easy-through play, especially for children twelve and under. Free play and exposure to as many different sports as possible is the route to take. Free play can consist of such simple games as tag, hopscotch or jumping rope. These simple games all have elements of the ABC's of athletics.
Also, playing as many sports as possible benefits athletes by exposing them to many varied movement patterns and different types of hand-eye and foot-eye coordination. Not just team sports but sports that encourage total development such as martial arts, tumbling, dance or gymnastics. These types of experiences lead to a large reservoir of movement skills that can be called upon when learning new sport-specific skills or trying to master more advanced movement skills.
By focusing on acquisition of motor skills and enjoying a variety of sporting experiences not only will the young athlete have more fun but he/she will be better prepared for the demands of their future sport. In future articles more specific exercises, drills and strength training will be discussed.
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On Young Athletes And Weight Training!
About The Author
Nate Jeffers is part of the Renegade Family of coaches and teaches core conditioning in Huntington Beach, CA. He will be offering an athletic development camp this spring and summer in Huntington Beach. Please send us your inquiries if interested.