As someone who works in the sports medicine industry, I strongly believe in proper youth development and exposure. Keeping it as broad as I can, my eight-year old has tried football, cricket, lawn tennis, golf, skateboarding, triathlon training, table tennis, some trail biking, even some yoga and stretching. My four-year old has tried a little football, gymnastics and ballet in structured settings but I allow her to climb everything and anything possible and ride her bike regularly. My objective is to expose them to as many sports, for as long as possible to avoid the curse of “early specialisation.”
I know two fathers who had or have their son in gymnastics or hip hop dance. One father told me that he put him in gymnastics so that when his son scored goals in football, he would be able to celebrate with flips. The other father just thought that dance would help with his footwork and coordination. Regardless of the reason, these fathers did their sons a huge favour in their “out of the box” thinking.
One couple I know, having learnt the hard way through two of their older offspring, has taken it on themselves to invest in two of their teenaged sons from now. Seeking the help of proper professionals, a programme was devised to take the boys through a three-month programme that would expose them twice a week to some habits that will serve in their best interest throughout their athletic life. I really commend these parents on this insightful move as their children have frankly stated that they are committed to taking their sporting careers as far as they possibly can–Olympics not being out of the question.
It is never too early to start instilling good habits in the lives of young athletes. Full body training, proper warm-ups, proper stretches as part of the cool down, good rehydration habits, eating right, training the mind…. Creating even a single well-rounded athlete is a huge investment of time and money—something that we do not do much of here, making it quite the phenomenon when an athlete or a team conquers the odds and makes it to the highest levels of their sport.
Injuries in sport are inevitable so it is only common sense to do as much as possible to avoid the avoidable ones. I can remember during the days of Tiger-mania when people talked up his amazing strength and conditioning regime and how this played such a huge factor in his professional performance as a golfer.
However, Tiger has now taken a leave of absence to allow himself time to work on his game, returning only when he believes he has returned it to a healthy competitive level—how long that will take he does not know. A scroll through his laundry list of injuries will unveil that this $600 million net worth athlete has been dealing with injuries since 1995 during his college days and has had surgeries done on several parts of his body including his knees, elbow and back. It would seem that Tiger is a victim of early specialisation, as he is said to have focused on golf from a little boy.
The truth is, most sports are late specialisation sports and they are categorised as such based on a number of factors—kinesthetic awareness, the visual tracking component, and the physical requirements of the sport which is developed from a foundation of general athleticism. Most team sports fall into the category of “late specialisation.” Not to be confused with or to discount the importance of “early exposure” which encourages a less intensive means of familiarisation, “early specialisation” is the deliberate act of honing in on the development of athletic skills as is relative to a particular sport. Increasingly it is being proven that early specialisation is unhealthy both physically and mentally for individuals, especially in the long-term.
Some interesting reading I picked up although not a formal study that was done, involved the selection of the top ten North American athletes across the four popular sports of that culture, according to ESPN ratings.
They found that only 7 of them seem to have been single-sport athletes. They were able to find information on the other 82 per cent of the athletes as having participated in sports outside of the one they eventually went pro in. So keep it real and keep it broad if you want your kids to thrive in their sports. Don’t get caught in the hype.
Asha De Freitas-Moseley M.S. A.T.C., A. has been an athletic trainer/therapist with the National Athletic Trainers’ Association (NATA) for the past 12 years. She specialises in the rehabilitation of injuries experienced in the lives of active and/or athletic populations applying active release technique (ART), facial stretch therapy (FST) and contemporary dry needling to complement her training as a certified corrective exercise specialist. If you would like a consultation or have an injury, she can be reached at Pulse Performance Ltd., located at #17 Henry Pierre St., St. James. Tel: 221-2437.