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Submitted by: Dennis Jarvis
It feels like prep sports is moving younger and younger with every passing decade. College sports feels like the Pro’s now with high school starting to look more like college in terms of recruiting, expectations, and just general focus. Parents these days can feel more and more pressure to ramp up their training and skills regiments at a younger and younger age or fear their kids won’t be able to play at even the high school level. So what are the benefits and issues with starting kids younger in sports and more intensively at that. Let’s take a look at the ever increasing trend towards starting kids early in sports.
Go out to the local soccer field on a given Saturday morning. You’ll see lots of kids running around in brightly covered jerseys ranging a full spectrum of ages and sizes. You’re also likely to see some little guys chasing the ball around where the shorts barely fit and the jerseys wear more like smocks. You can find teams all the way down to age 4 or 5 (some even younger) in most communities these days. It’s actually pretty cute at this age since it’s more of a social occasion than anything and the parents are pretty mellow (so far). That starts to change as the years go by and it’s not too far away that parents are screaming on the sidelines, coaches are drilling players, and the players themselves, responding to this pressure, are generally playing at full speed. You can start to find pee-wee football leagues as young as age 8 and 9 that are practicing 5 days a week. That’s right, in our area, it’s 5 days a week. And that’s our area which is pretty laid back compared the bulk of the U.S. Same thing goes for baseball. Only basketball isn’t as turbo in our area and that’s probably just because the other two sports have such a tradition. Needless to say, the program at the high school sport level are really good and directly gain from this early exposure but that’s not the whole point of life or sports.
We all know the benefits of youth sports and they are many. Aside from just general good health and fitness, there’s the very important idea of playing on a team with other players, learning sportsmanship, coming back from adversity, and just the simple but often overlooked benefit of keeping kids out of trouble. The old saying about idle hands definitely applies to the typical 7-13 year kid. We know all the positives but let’s look at potential negatives, not to youth sport, but to excessive youth sport intensity at an earlier and earlier age. For one, there’s the potential for serious injury. Injuries such as ACL tears are more common at an earlier age than ever before. This is partially a result of just playing more…earlier but also the fact that kids are expected to play harder at an earlier age when they’re not completely in control of their motion and bodies. Any one who plays sports knows that combing 110% effort with less body control is just asking for injuries. How is a 12 year old suppose to know when to dial it back?
There’s also the basic fact that the intensity expected for most kids is not their doing but reflecting expectations from parents. So many parents are driving their young kids to train essentially like adults to where the kids burn out by the time high school rolls around. Kids will only do something they don’t really like for so long and right around middle school, you start to see the kids (some of them, really skilled by that point) drop off. They just don’t want to play anymore much to the consternation of their parents. To some extent, the parents are to blame. They have squeezed the joy out of something that is suppose to be fun after all. Maybe, that particular sport (or sports in general) wasn’t their first love but the parents.
Many great athletes actually start their requisite sports later in life (by later, middle school is a pretty good benchmark). They’re doing it because they love it and not under pressure from parents and they’ve probably avoided potential injuries that have long term effects (such as damaged ligaments, etc). Obviously, youth sports can be beneficial but only if the parents and coaches keep it fun and safe.
About the Author: Dennis Jarvis writes about
high school sports
and prep sports with fantasy league at
including high school football, basketball, and baseball.