Today’s focus is on youth sports and early sports specialization.
Youth training has a lot of myths surrounding it and we dive into 3 of the most popular ones here!
Myth #1: “Early sports specialization will help my kids performance and get them to an elite level.”
From a performance stand point itself we are finding this not to be the case. If we look at the compilation of the rosters from this most recent Super Bowl in the NFL we find that over 80% of those players were multi-sport athletes in high school.
If the goal is to get to the highest level of sport, these players would have to be a representation of what works to get there. Few played just football, aiding in our argument against single sport specialization.
Above is merely in reference to performance– to getting to the next level. What is a far greater detriment to youth sports is that early specialization has a far greater potential for injury risk. The depth of literature surrounding this topic is massive and growing. One such study has looked at the number of innings pitched per year for kids focusing on baseball.
It shows a >300% in injury risk if they pitch over 100 innings. This is but merely one example. Kids need variability in movement and sport. Not only is specialization not indicative of future performance but it may be putting them at risk for injury.
Last is the idea of early sport specialization leading to psychological burnout. Lots of kids love the sport they play and that is great, it is their choice. Yet when a sport is forced upon kids or there is not adequate amount of time for recovery, play, or other options then burnout amongst youth sports is common.
There is an entire Olympic Committee Consensus paper devoted to just this topic. We must be aware and knowingly allow our kids to play, to try lots of different activities, and determine their own path in sport.
Myth #2: “Lifting weights stunts growth/isn’t good for kids”
We hear this a lot. We understand the concern behind it… Kids are growing, growth plates are not yet completely fused, etc. What we have come to believe and what we understand, however, are clashing with one another.
General thoughts on this is to protect our kids, when in reality, strength training is no more harmful than any other activity that they may be doing. If anything, it prepares them for the activity they want to be involved more.
Strength training creates a level of body awareness and understanding of how to work around weights, objects, and be strong.
A supervised and professionally structured program that is tailored to the kids, can have benefits for their all around health.
Myth #3: “Kids should be treated as mini-adults”
Sports are an amazing opportunity for kids to learn a great many skills in regards to both relationships and life. One of these is the idea of how to deal with losing and failure.
What a lot of youth sports get wrong is the notion of “treat them as mini-adults.” This is wrong because of the fact that these kids are still learning how to cope with loss, with failure even if simply on the level of a sports team.
Adults have an array of experience to give context to loss and failure but children do not have this experience to pull from. This alone makes it a novel learning experience for them and needs to be cultivated in a positive way over time. This does not mean that no kid should ever lose or fail, on the contrary, but it needs to be approached in a way that allows for learning and growth.
To treat kids as adults takes away from that ability. They are not professional athletes with a daily agenda to “grind” towards their goal of becoming an elite athlete or consistently win. They are kids participating in activities that they find fun and that promote a deeper understanding of the people and environment around them.
Let the kids play, let them learn, support them along the journey.