Child Development and Sport

By Scott Pierce

When really is the best age for your child to start competitive sports? There are a lot of different opinions on when to start competing at an elite level. There are baby tours in golf designated for players who are at the age of 6 and under. Many say that this is too young to start competing at such an elite level but the argument of Tiger Woods always comes up when you mention golf and young ages.

Learning about the development of sports at a young age could be crucial so the drop out rate in sports would decrease and we would see a lot more of people playing sports at older ages. There should be research done on early sport specialization, the effectiveness of government funding on recreation and the impact of travel competitive teams.

Times in sport are changing and new research is coming out about the development of children at a young age. With the funding and the research we will have an understanding of sport development and will be able to make the correct choices for the direction of youth sports.

The problem is a lot of parents don’t want their kids to be the piano player or the violinist because that’s not what they were when they were children. They want their kids to be the next Lebron James or the next Tom Brady and succeed in the sport in which they did not. That’s the way society is though everyone wants their kid to be the best and they will do and risk a lot of things to see it happen even if it means to slow down their social skills to develop their athleticism.

Kids will miss social cues and not know how to interact in a social environment and will experiment with drugs and alcohol at earlier ages. The chances of becoming an elite athlete are very slim. Tiger Woods was one of the exceptions but look at him now with the divorce and what he did to his family. That could have correlation to the way he was raised as an elite athlete at such a young age.

Adults and children have a different view on what they want from sports. A common mistake is that children under the age of twelve don’t want to compete at a competitive level they are just participating in the sport to have fun. Adults are obsessed with their child winning something because of course they now have something to brag about. It is not that the child doesn’t want to win, it just is not that important to them at this age.

In 1989, Michigan State professors surveyed eight thousand kids and asked what their motives for playing sports were. The number one answer for all genders was “To have fun.” The boys only mentioned, “To win” and it was their eighth most important factor out of ten for reasons to participate in sports.

This just goes to show that winning is not the main focus and is not that important for children at young ages. We can fix this problem of parents putting so much pressure on their children at young ages to win by letting the parents know about the problems and dangers of doing so. If the parents’ behavior is non-stop pressure on their child athlete, he/she is going to be burned out or have a disinterest in the sport at an older age. Parents don’t want to see their child athlete burned out so they will now be educated on what they are doing when they put so much pressure on winning.

Golf is the only sport in which early sport immersion leads to greater success but even then the average age of pro golfers didn’t start playing till the age of 10. Even if the kids started playing at a young age a good majority of them are burned out by the time they try out for high school sports. Being burned out happens because of the pressure to succeed in just one sport and not try others to see if you have any interest in those. Children don’t have the motor skills yet either at some ages to start playing too. Trying to teach a child to throw a football correctly at age 5 will not have any correlation to whether or not he can at the age of 18. There have been studies and trials done that also show that there is no correlation to starting sports at a very young age compared to starting them at a more reasonable age.

AAU’s focus on elite teams is limiting opportunities for children at the expense of revenues. From what I understand you have to tryout to make a roster spot on AAU basketball teams which that is limiting children’s opportunities. If your child is not as talented as another than sorry your son doesn’t make the team that’s not AAU’s fault, it is merely your kid isn’t good enough. That’s why there are recreational leagues so they don’t get to miss the fun of sport but they are missing out on having the ability to go on to the next level. The belief that every child deserves a medal these days does not comprehend with many Americans because then everyone loses that competitive edge. AAU makes a lot of money off of tournaments and championships but that’s where the athletes are going to be recognized to go on and play in college or straight to pro.

There is still an unknown when to fully immerse children into training like an elite athlete. If your child is one in a million then it looks like your parenting and kids’ training has paid off but for the rest that leaves a group of children who are burned out sports and potentially stop playing and pursue other activities. That is why there should be research done on early sport specialization, the effectiveness of government funding on recreation and the impact of travel competitive teams.



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