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Sports ALL Kids Should Play
One of the questions I get asked most regularly is which sports do I think provide the best developmental capacity for young athletes.
This is a loaded question for several reasons…
First of all, ANY sports activity led by a quality coach is wonderful for children.
That being said, the real crux and effectiveness of this statement rests largely on the “quality-based coach” commentary.
It is only when poorly educated and overzealous parents and coaches (i.e. adults) get too involved in youth sports that the experience can turn sour. Parents often push too hard and seek success at a young age; coaches are often limited in their understanding of developmental science and routinely ‘train’ children with ‘sport specific’ drills (I hate that term) that are too narrow in scope (not to mention that many sports coaches for young people don’t know how to TEACH specific aspects of movement or speed and yet get upset when their athletes don’t perform a given exercise at a high enough level).
One of the biggest and most problematic realities of the comments above is that there don’t seem to be many (none?) outlets for kids to play anymore. Every young sporting activity is a life or death struggle that MUST culminate in a victory…God forbid, we actually teach strong development skills in a fun and energetic way to promote integrity in the development of our youth – which, by the way, should include emotional stability (e.g. highlighting skills acquired in a given season rather than accumulated “victories” and trophies) and mental stimulation (in the form engaging life lessons that instill a lifelong love for physical activity rather than an all-out win-cost mentality that can plague children with various complexes for years).
That said, I encourage parents to suppress the desire to see their 8-year-old win the weekend tournament; I encourage coaches to remove their “Lombardi” caps when entering a training or match situation; I also encourage strength and conditioning coaches to eliminate their desire to “test” young athletes from a biomotor perspective and only seek to increase a child’s abilities from a performance perspective. .
My post is simple…
Find coaches and programs that focus on building skills rather than winning.
Find coaches who do the same – work on instilling skills in children rather than creating performance markers.
So, here are my four favorite sports that all kids should play (in no particular order) –
In most parts of North America, children lack foot dexterity and soccer is a wonderful natural booster for foot dexterity and foot-eye coordination. Also, don’t classify this ability as only necessary for football. Remember that the key to developing a “whole” athlete is to absorb them into as much athletic stimulation as possible at a young age. Increasing foot dexterity will, over time, complement a youngster’s overall ability and allow them to progress more effectively in their ‘chosen’ sport.
Also, although many North Americans find football “boring” (although I need an explanation of how football is boring, but baseball and golf are America’s pastimes), it’s a wonderfully athletic and tactical sport. Sudden bursts of explosive power, a change of direction, looking two plays ahead, playing a “forcing” based defense in which the defender uses their body/skills to change what the offensive player wanted to do – these are fantastic athletic lessons that can be filed away in the nervous system and later utilized in any sporting activity.
Unloaded shoulder and hip mobility adds a lot of flexibility to a young athlete’s frame. With so many injuries due to restrictions and oppression in children (yes…I sincerely believe that many of the youth sports injuries that we see around the world every year could be prevented with a simple and fundamental increase strength and mobility) hip and shoulder mobility initiatives are crucial.
Additionally, kinesthetic differentiation is a physical skill that many children lack (this refers to knowledge of the strength needed to produce a desired result). My opinion on this is simple – everything we tend to do with children, both in sport and in training, is based on maximum effort. In our zeal to seek out these “performance markers,” we overlook the notion that submaximal efforts are both developmentally healthy and build certain physical qualities not seen in strength-based outings. high. Swimming is the essence of kinesthetic differentiation – kids just won’t last long in a pool if they put as much force into every stroke as possible.
3) Martial Arts
Almost all martial arts that I know are based on skill acquisition as a primary scorer. Not only is this mentally and emotionally good for a child, but it involves teaching patience and “enjoying the journey” rather than “finding the destination”.
While much of the martial arts practice in North America has been watered down (8 year olds earning black belts – if you knew anything about traditional martial arts you know how ridiculous that is ), most of the organizations I know of teach a wonderful style of developing patient skills and discipline.
Athletically speaking, dynamic flexibility, end-of-range systemic strength, mobility, spatial awareness – the physical ability developed through martial arts is impressive and can be applied 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’s 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 archaic in their knowledge of warm-up design, as are gymnastics trainers in their flexibility-enhancing practices. That said, good coaches exist and I urge 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 strong strength-based training habits and skill building.
Play football in the fall.
Swim in summer.
Participate in martial arts throughout the winter.
Do gymnastics in the spring.
Mix developmental training and play other sports recreationally for interest and development (basketball and baseball for example).
By age 13-14 you will have a strong athlete with limited injuries who understands sports tactics and who is strong, mobile and flexible…
Not a bad place to be!
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