So it’s time to swim against the tide again.
Today we attack the well-worn maxim below.
Its not important to know who JJ Watt is, he’s a very good professional NFL player in the USA. That HE is saying is not the issue, that this is a salient theme of opinion amongst the stakeholders of organized sport for children is the reason why I have chosen it as the flagship statement to critique.
Let’s take a look at this bit-by-bit and unpack it because I have contrary opinion of what the actual problem is.
My interpretation of this statement, and the general theme, is that there are two main concerns; one about physical development, the other psychological/social development. There is a fear and perception that children are being ‘pushed’ into taking a single sport seriously too early in life.
There is a repeating concern at the higher levels of organized sport that kids arrive at the top levels lacking certain skills, ‘peak-too-early’ and then fail at the sport; in particular accumulating injuries. Additionally, they will have a humorless sporting experience and mimic some of the landmark ‘child-prodigy’ kids who later fell from grace. (Think Tiger Woods post-sexcapade revelations, Nick D’Arcy, Jelena Dokic, Todd Marinovich)
On reflection, those careers on paper would be more than acceptable, its the behavior linked to the person that is concerning. But since Watt mentioned both physical and psychological aspects of concern, so shall we.
SOME EVIDENCE BEYOND ME JUST GAS-BAGGING.
From this article, ‘Is it Wise to Specialize?‘, ‘here are five research excerpts’.
Of the 5, 3 are related to injury and the other 2 are psychological/behavioral based (continuing on with physical activity in adult life and burnout/stress). These are loosely referred to.
The article throws up several objections to sporting specialization and sites a study that can be found here.
It makes these observation:-
- The study found that 60.4 percent of the injured athletes specialized in sports, while only 31.3 percent of the uninjured athletes specialized.
- Uninjured athletes spent a total of 8.8 hours a week playing organized sports, while injured athletes spent 11 hours.
Importantly, ‘However, this finding had a P value of 0.07, meaning that it fell just short of being considered statistically significant. Jayanthi said results of the current study are preliminary.’
Ultimately, it should be no mystery that athletes who take a sport more seriously will more likely consult a specialist for a physical malady. Sporting excellence does not, and should not, suggest optimal health; it merely suggests specialized adaptation.
The extra 2.2 hours per week spent participating in sport alone could account for the injury rate in the study.
CUTTING TO THE CHASE.
A single sport does not axiomatically preclude variations in the dreaded ‘ingrained motor patterns’ and inevitably create ‘over-use injuries’. Neither does participation in a single sport preclude social and personal development in youth. From the same related article by the Aspen Institute….
‘Models that include the multiplicative, complex, and multifactorial nature of talent development may prove to be the most valuable to children.’
‘Need to better recognize that talent development in youth is multifactorial and complex, and includes the interaction of numerous biological, social and psychological factors (Bailey et al., 2010)’
Anecdotally, the experience of Shire Speed and Strength gym has been that youth athletes arrive at the gym having spent their career to that point endlessly sampling various sports, often showing talent in some of them, but never actually developing the multitude of factors necessary for sporting excellence and mastery. They participate in sporting with a large running component but are terrible runners. They have poor mobility. They’re weak.
Of course there is a bias towards athletes consulting us here for help who have problems to solve, if they didn’t need help they wouldn’t come to us, but even beyond the consultancy, the dialogue with other coaches, competitors and parents is actually one of multiple sports and multiple unaddressed inefficiencies.
Overall I perceive a prejudice against kids. That they can’t be conscientious about sport. That they only ever want to have fun. That they can’t be taught complex skills.
The desire to want to learn, to start at a conservative point, to progress soberly and thoughtfully and to value and acknowledge that process transcends age; occurring across the spectrum of age-groups.
Maybe its the preference as a business model to want to teach kids in groups and the difficulty and time-consuming nature of laying skills out diligently precludes it. But the answer to this perceived problem of youth sport isn’t going to be solved by just ‘having a go’ at more sports. The same people who make this haphazard recommendation are the same ones who will get angry at ‘everyone gets a trophy day’ then rage, RAGE I TELL YA! At some league they heard of that doesn’t even keep score!
“Do-gooders, they’re everywhere!” “Yeah! Lousy no good do-gooders!”
Can’t we agree after the final score check, that there is common ground on this?
Playing sport: GOOD
Keeping score: GOOD
Trophies: GOOD but not for everyone.
We agree its good to play sport, and do it well, we want to keep score and kids need to learn to lose. But surely developing a child at a sport if they really like it means that they need to develop all the components of that sport and it is this which is missing in youth development. Things wont actually get better by playing more sports in an even less organized and planned way.