A robot is someone or something that does things automatically without thinking. In a lot of cases this can be a good thing. However, the latest trends in sports are turning our kids into robots, and long-term it can have a negative effect on the child.
Lets start by taking a look at a typical high school athlete. A typical kid probably plays 2-3 sports. Lets go on the cautious side by saying they play two sports. Great, he is an active child who plays soccer and lacrosse. Sounds good so far, right? Well, this gentlemen plays soccer for the high school, so that goes from September-November. On top of that he plays in a travel league that has practices twice a week and games on the weekend. His parents then think they are doing good by putting him in an indoor league in the winter. So that goes from November-March. He then is in a premier spring league that runs from March-June. Finally, he doesn’t want to take the summer off, so he joins another travel team that plays all summer long. So, now you have a kid who is playing soccer year-round. That doesn’t even include his lacrosse season(s). Lacrosse starts in late March and goes until June. However, mom wants him to be better, and maybe he wants to better himself, so they think playing more will do the trick. So what do they do? You guessed it. More travel leagues, premier leagues, and pick-up on Sundays. Now you have a kid playing two sports, year-round.
While most parents think this is a positive thing, we are actually turning our children into robots. Insanity is doing the same things over and over, expecting different results.
This quote from Phil Jackson pretty much sums it up:
“Forty million kids play sports, and most of them are between 7 and 12. By the time they are 13 more than 70 percent of them have stopped playing because it’s not fun anymore. All of a sudden when kids get into junior high, we feel this need to have them become professionals, and the coaches become professionals… The message I’d like to get out to them is to honor the game. The goal, or the victory is important, but team sportsmanship, the athletic endeavor itself is just as important.”
The point is, we need to focus on the backbone of sports. Things like teamwork, sportsmanship, confidence, and athletic development. We need to focus on athletic development rather than trying to make our kid a professional baseball player at the age of 12. Playing one sport is just as detrimental as playing 3 sports year-round. Focus more on the goal of developing an athlete, not a specific sport player. Although they are having fun at age 12, by the time they are 16 three things are very likely to happen. They’re going to be burnt out, overstrained, and/or injured.
My recommendation is to let all kids try every sport they want to. However, the sport should be played for one season, and then have a clear off-season. They should then play another sport that requires different skills, as those skills developed in that sport will help them to be a better athlete overall. Playing soccer, hockey, and baseball is a great idea. However, they should each have their own distinct seasons, with planned off-seasons. At a young age, kids will develop skills in one sport that will help in all the other sports they play.
You may think your son or daughter is going to be a professional. But guess what…only 1% makes it to the professionals. Yes, you should strive to be that 1%, but at the appropriate time. As a youth athlete, the focus should consist of fun, injury free athleticism.
If you go back in history, athletes like Nomar Garciapara and Mia Hamm actually played multiple sports in high school, and look where they went in life. If you try to project to the future, I anticipate seeing a lot of high school kids with over use injuries and minimal athletic talent due to the early specialization and high volume we are putting our kids through.
That bridges into the importance of strength and conditioning. With kids playing sports year-round, they have no distinct off-season. That allows them zero time to develop strength, power, and rehab any injuries they may have. I respect sport coaches tremendously, but they are there to coach the sport specific skills. For example, how to pitch, how to shoot, how to dribble, etc. It is our job as strength coaches to develop strength and power so that they can then translate that to the field. Practicing your sport or doing 100 push-ups before you go to bed is not going to develop strength. An individualized program designed by a strength and conditioning professional, and ample time to commit to the program, will develop transmittable strength, power, and keep the athlete injury free.
Our field has come a long way, but we still have a lot of work. I think coaches need to know their specialty and respect those who have other specialties. I will never tell a coach how to teach an athlete to dribble, shoot a lacrosse ball, or skate on ice. I will however educate them on the importance of year-round strength and conditioning, proper warm-up, and guidelines they should follow to get their athletes strong and keep them injury free. For more on this you can check out one of my previous posts: Phasing Youth Strength & Conditioning
Another topic in addition to early specialization is the whole “sport specific training” method. Our job as strength coaches is to develop strength and conditioning abilities that will translate to better performance on the field. However, there are methods that are causing more harm than good to our athletes. I talk a lot about this in a previous blog found here: Sport Specific Training.
I highly encourage you to read that article. However, at least understand this. The following picture is of two lacrosse sticks.
They are both used by one of my athletes here at STS. By looks, they seem to be the same. Maybe one is used for practices, and one is a game stick. Ok, I can see that. However, after picking them up I noticed the one on the right is significantly heavier. So, I asked the athlete why. The answer, “coach, that stick is filled with cement, so that way when I practice shooting, my regular stick will seem lighter, and I will shoot faster”. That can’t be further from the truth. What really happens is by using a heavier stick the athlete has to change her mechanics of the shot. Then, as she changes sticks for game-time, she uses those same mechanics on the lighter stick. What happens? Because of the different mechanics, her accuracy is way off, cradling skills are off, and overall her performance drops. Where she would benefit more is learning from her coach proper technique of the swing, and practicing that. Developing medicine ball rotational power, core strength, and overall body strength in the gym would also be benificial. Her coach may think holding a heavier stick is going to help, but I disagree.
A lot of this article was based on a post by Mike Boyle. Mike works with hundreds of professional athletes, and is a strength coach for the Red Sox. He has been in the industry for a long time, and his thoughts are well-respected. You can read them here: Youth Sports and Early Specialization
Other coaches and researches have commented on this issues as well. I have listed some below:
Baseball’s Weight Problem – A great article published in the Wall Street Journal
The next two articles are by Eric Cressey. I share a lot of Eric’s stuff. He is a brilliant guy, and writes brilliant stuff. He has a training facility in Massachusetts and works with hundreds of professional baseball players. Each and every year his athletes are being drafted into the pros. I think he knows a thing or two about this topic.
PubMed Article -A research article that supports all of what I mentioned
This topic is highly debated, and I respect everyone’s opinion. I would love to hear your opinion in the comments section below.
Thanks for reading, and before leaving lets connect on Facebook.