The unprecedented, widespread availability of sports participation opportunities for children is leading to an unintended consequence: kids quitting sports after bad experiences or injury. Sadly both can be avoided with adequate preparation. Youth athletics are unique in that most parents feel comfortable sending their kids onto the playing field effectively unprepared. There is no other youthful endeavor in which such unpreparedness would be acceptable.
Children require a foundation for math, a foundation for English, a foundation for critical thinking, and yet it is somehow assumed that some pushups in Phys Ed are enough of a foundation to have a satisfying sports experience. All children can have a rewarding time participating in team and individual sports and avoid injury as well by preparing a solid foundation of physical ability. This will not only lead to a more active healthy childhood: by avoiding injuries and bad experiences it can lead to a better self-image and a more active, healthy adulthood.
Another unintended consequence of unprepared kids being thrown into sports is exclusivity. Children who are naturally more gifted or coordinated are given exclusive rights to being called “athletes”, while the disappointed, unprepared kids are locked out. This leads to missing out on some incredibly valuable experiences in team play and hard work, as well as chances to succeed and strive. There are training programs designed to teach athleticism and prevent injury; that teach balance, rhythm, timing, motor control, running and jumping technique, and more.
Children should not learn a sport without a foundation. Having a foundation increases their chance of success. Thus, for example, hitting a baseball is not best taught by giving a child a bat and telling them to swing away. The child first needs to know how to use their feet. The feet start, support and power every athletic movement. Training the feet also improves all other vital areas for children’s athletics. By teaching children using unstable surfaces and slant boards, as well as a good old-fashioned jumprope, they begin with a solid base upon which to build future athletic success.
One thing that children should never do is lift weights. Pre-teens and teens especially are going to be influenced by coaches and television to equate lifting heavy weights with athletic prowess, or great strength. There’s no better way to risk potentially lifelong injuries in kids than to load their bodies with too much weight. While one can gain strength through conventional weight training, it comes at a high cost, namely sacrificing speed, which is much more important for sports. Very rarely does the athlete who can slowly move the most weight come out on top. The athlete with the best balance, fastest reaction time, and most speed will win every encounter.
Technique is invaluable for children in sports. A good coach will train kids to shoot the basketball, or throw a baseball, or swing a racket. Rarely do coaches show children how to run, or jump. These techniques allow children to approach sports with a greater chance of having a fulfilling experience, and avoiding disappointment and injury. Teaching the proper way to run and jump, as well as change direction, will lead to a greater enjoyment of physical activity and a healthier lifestyle as well as imbue children with confidence and a positive attitude.
The availability of more sports and athletic opportunity to more children is a wonderful thing. By preparing your child for athletics the same way you prepare them for mathematics, you help not only that child but the adult they will become. More physical activity will lead to more confidence, fewer injuries and illnesses, greater energy and ultimately happier kids. Such preparation will also demystify sports for many children, especially as they grow, allowing them to learn the long list of invaluable lessons offered by competition.