What Happened to Youth Sports?
Youth sports today are highly competitive and specialized from a very early age. Gone are the days when young athletes “discovered” sports in middle and high school by trying some activities for the first time. It is also much less common to find three-season, three-sport athletes anymore. Most kids today are introduced to sports (and sometimes even specialized) before school has even started – between ages three and 5.
Introducing the foundations of fitness and sport when we’re young is a wonderful way to promote the benefits of a healthy and active lifestyle that, hopefully, last a lifetime. Ideally, our youth is filled with hours spent outdoors, exploring the world and engaging in play that leaves us tired and content. But too often these days, outside adventure is replaced by screen time. What used to occur organically in terms of multi-sport play developing a variety of skills has become more engineered for kids.
Many children and families today pick a sport and stick with it. There are countless articles that articulate the challenges that come from the one-sport phenomenon, including overuse injuries, burnout, and even a lack of adult activity when the formal sports career ends.
Most of the studies have confirmed that multi-sport activity leads to better all-around development and has been proven to make athletes even better at their chosen sport. So why are so many parents and kids so adamant that they only play one sport?
Most will tell you it’s the competition for travel team spots or making the middle or high school team roster. It becomes a bit of a vicious cycle. Sadly, all this specialization is not producing more elite collegiate or professional athletes…it’s primarily just producing better 12 or 13-year-old athletes.
Why It’s Important to Keep Variety in Youth Sports
Sports offer a host of positive impacts in life. The value of hard work; the power of teamwork to elevate performance; the ability to clear your mind and focus on a goal. Equally important is how to handle disappointment and turn it into motivation.
There are many, less intense ways to introduce variety that provide some of the benefits that multi-sport play. It’s important to remember that age needs to be considered when deciding the best approach for athletic development. The younger the athlete, the more general the exposure. It needs to be about fun and movement and less about technical skill or strength development.
5 Ways to Change Things Up For Your Kids
1. Recreational Sports
Recreational spots programs typically offer inexpensive and short-term exposure to a host of different sporting activities for kids. They are often coached by volunteers and can be a nice way to mix up a young athlete’s training.
2. CrossFit Kids
CrossFit Kids programs emphasize movement and coordination. Unlike the more competitive (and better known) CrossFit programs, CrossFit Kids is a low-pressure way to get kids moving.
3. Yoga for kids
Yoga introduces simple stretches, helps build flexibility and can help with focus and concentration.
4. Playing Together as a Family
One great way to keep your kid’s active lives interesting is by doing stuff together as a family. Sign up for a color run together or learn how to do something new like stand up paddle boarding together.
5. Being a Kid
Good, old fashioned outside play like a neighborhood kickball game, climbing trees, riding bikes are the stuff of great childhoods if you live somewhere conducive to these activities.
As athletes reach the teen years, it may make sense to introduce more formal strength and conditioning work. Whether offered one-on-one or with a team as supplemental training, you want to be sure to find a professional that understands appropriate youth athletic development. Be sure that the programming addresses the entire body, working all major muscle groups. In addition, you want a program that is both progressive and varied.
There may be instances when you choose to seek more specific, skill-based training for your teen athlete in a given sport. Again, you want to work with a professional that will train to the appropriate level of the athlete. This kind of specified training should not be a replacement for general training or alternative sports to give the athlete a more well-rounded experience.
When done well, kids of every age can gain great conditioning benefits and all-around strength, coordination and agility development from these programs. Being well-rounded will benefit any athlete in any sport and will serve as a solid foundation for years of success, both on and off the playing field.