Athletics play an important role in the development of children. Youth sports are bigger than ever, and kids today have the luxury of specialized training for individual sports. So, when should children consider specialization? Specializing in a sport, at any age, is acceptable as long as the child has made the decision. Sometimes parents get overly involved in making decisions for their kids. The most important factor for children is to have fun and learn how to give their best effort, especially when they are young. Some children will opt to play two, three or even four different sports throughout the year, and some will focus on one. The thing to remember is that if the child performs well, he will feel good about himself. Ultimately, that’s what athletics is all about.
I ask young athletes all the time when I see them at the Parisi Speed School: “Why are you here today?” Most of the answers I receive are, “to improve speed, improve jumping ability, improve strength,” and so on. Then I ask, “Why do you want to improve?” Their reply is, “to perform better on the athletic field.” Then I ask, “Why do you want to perform better on the athletic field?” Here’s where I get the most hesitation from children, and the parents also are stumped. I have to provide the answer: “Ultimatly you want to feel good about yourself.” Performing well in athletics is a vehicle to raise confidence and self-esteem. Parents shouldn’t lose sight of this. My definition of success is to feel good about yourself all the time. It doesn’t matter how far you excel in sports; the goal is to reach your athletic potential. This may be a youth travel team, high school, college, or maybe even pro sports for the truly gifted.
For children to build confidence and feel good about themselves, they must be allowed to dream. Then they need to turn those dreams into goals by giving the deal a deadline. What gets your child excited about the sport they play? Is it making the travel team, becoming a starter, playing in high school, earning a scholarship, making the pros? It’s healthy for a young athlete to set high goals.
The goal has to come from the athletes. Parents should help guilde them to accomplish their goals without being too pushy. Kids will most likely not buy into the goal if their parent establishes it for them. Children have the ability to think through their own goals. Parents just need to help guide them in an unpressured way.
Kids should try as many sports as they desire to determine which one(s) they enjoy most. The majority of children will gravitate to the sports in which they excel. Remember that competence builds confidence. Sometimes an athlete will reach a point in his or her career where if they are spread too thin, playing too many sports and always competing and not practicing. That could ultimately hinder his or her performance in each sport. Playing various sports is commendable, but if the goal is to be at your highest athletic level possible for a specific sport, you must prepare your body to meet its unique physical demands.
More and more young athletes are specializing in one or two sports in high school. Competition is getting better and better on every level, from grade school to professional. If young athletes wish to reach their potential, they need to decide which one or two sports they enjoy the most if they want to excel at the high school level. They need to focus on refining specific skills.
Begin a physical conditioning program. This will help reduce the chance of injury. Kids can safely begin a training program as young as 8 years old. Playing sports and training for sports is a great way to develop competitiveness and work ethic, and confidence. When children improve in these areas, they excel and feel better about themselves.