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Sports ALL Kids Should Play
One of the questions I get asked most routinely is which sports I think offer the best skill development for young athletes.
This is a loaded question for several reasons…
Above all, ANY sports activity led by a quality-based coach is wonderful for children.
That being said, the true core and effectiveness of that statement is largely based on the “quality-based coach” comment.
It is only when poorly educated and overzealous parents and coaches (ie adults) get too heavily involved in youth sports that the experience can turn sour. Parents often push too hard and look for success at a young age; coaches are often limited in their understanding of developmental science and routinely “drill” kids with “sport specific” (I hate that phrase) exercises that are too narrow in scope (not to mention many youth sports coaches don’t know how to TEACH). specific aspects of movement or speed and yet are annoyed when their athletes do not perform a given drill to a high enough standard).
One of the most salient and problematic realities of the above comments is that there don’t seem to be many (any?) outlets for kids just to play. Every youth sports activity is a life or death battle that MUST culminate in victory…heaven forbid we actually teach developmentally sound skills in a fun and energetic way to promote wholeness to our youth development – which by the way should include. emotional stability (for example highlighting the skills acquired in a given season rather than the “wins” and trophies accumulated) and mental stimulation (in the form of engaging life lessons that instill a lifelong love of physical activity rather than win-all). -cost mentality, which can burden children with various complexes for years).
Having said that, I encourage parents to put aside the desire to watch their 8-year-olds win the weekend tournament; I encourage coaches to remove there “Lombardi” hats when they enter a practice or game situation; I also encourage strength and conditioning coaches to remove there desire to “test” young athletes from a biomotor perspective and seek only to increase a child’s ability from a performance perspective.
My message is simple…
Play sports seasonally.
Find coaches and programs that emphasize skill over winning.
Find coaches who do the same – work to instill skills in kids rather than create performance markers.
So, here are my top four sports that all kids should play (in no particular order)-
In most parts of North America, children lack footwork and soccer is a wonderful natural enhancer of both footwork and foot-eye coordination. Also, don’t dismiss this skill as only necessary for soccer. Remember, the core to developing a “whole” athlete is to engage them in as much athletic stimulation as possible at a young age. Increased foot dexterity, in time, rounds out the general ability of young people and will allow them to progress in there “chosen” sport more skillfully.
Additionally, although many North Americans find soccer “boring” (although I’ll need an explanation of how soccer is boring, but baseball and golf are America’s pastimes) it is an amazingly athletic and tactical sport. Sudden bursts of explosive power, changing direction, looking two plays ahead, playing a “force” based defense in which the defender uses their bodies/skills to change what the offensive player wanted to do – these are wonderful athletic lessons that can to be archived. away in the nervous system and used later in any sporting activity.
Unloaded shoulder and hip mobility add great flexibility to a young athlete’s frame. With so many injuries occurring due to limitations and tension in children (yes…I believe wholeheartedly that many of the youth sports injuries we see every year around the world could be prevented by simple and basic increases in both systemic strength and mobility ) hip and shoulder mobility measures are crucial.
Additionally, kinesthetic differentiation is a physical skill lacking in many children (this refers to the knowledge of how much force is needed to produce a desired result). My opinion on this matter is simple – everything we tend to do with children, both in sport and training, is based on maximum efforts. In our eagerness to look for those “performance markers,” we overlook the notion that sub-maximal efforts are both developmentally sound and build certain physical qualities not seen in high strength-based outputs. Swimming is the essence of building kinesthetic differentiation – kids simply won’t last long in a pool if they put as much force as possible into each stroke.
3) Martial Arts
Almost every martial art I know is based on skill acquisition as a primary marker. Not only is this mentally and emotionally good for a child, but it inculcates the lesson of patience and “enjoying the journey” rather than “seeking the destination.”
While many martial arts practices in North America have gone down the drain (8 year olds earning black belts – if you’ve known anything about traditional martial arts you know how ridiculous that is), most organizations I’m familiar with teach an amazing style. of patient skill development and discipline.
Athletically speaking, dynamic flexibility, end range systemic strength, mobility, spatial awareness – the physical ability built through martial arts is awe-inspiring and can apply to any sport.
Again, the physical elements that can be built through gymnastics are amazing – spatial awareness, flexibility, relative strength, dynamic and static balance – the list goes on.
If for no other reason, the ability to know where you are in space and fall “well” is a required skill for any sport.
So… here is my list.
Don’t get me wrong, the list is nothing without a quality coach at the helm of each of these respective sports. Martial arts instructors, for example, are often as archaic in their knowledge of warm-up design as gymnastics coaches are in their flexibility-enhancing practices. Having said that, good coaches do exist and I encourage you as a parent to find them. I also encourage coaches to seek joint venture partnerships with quality coaches and increase a child’s development with solid strength and skill acquisition-based training habits.
Play soccer in the fall.
Swim in the summer.
Participate in martial arts through the winter.
Take gymnastics in the spring.
Mix in some developmental training and play other sports recreationally for interest and development (basketball and baseball for example).
By the age of 13 – 14, you will have a solid athlete with limited injury who understands sports tactics and is strong, mobile and flexible…
Not a bad place to be!
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