Parenting

Parenting: What is too young for sports training?

Thursday, April 07, 2011

My 10-year-old son, Micah, and I watch Good Morning America together each morning while we have breakfast. Wednesday morning, we watched a story about parents starting their kids in sports when they're toddlers, or even younger, with great interest.

You can watch it by clicking here.

The timing of the story was a bit ironic in that Wednesday was the Opening Day for Micah's Little League team, which is coached by my husband, Terry. Anyone who reads my Parenting Perspectives regularly knows that I live in a house full of "jocks." Yet, even for a "football mom" like me, the dad of a four-year-old tennis player who had her playing for three hours each day in the Florida sun seemed excessive. That despite the fact that I began ballet classes when I was four, and danced all the way through college.

The GMA story doesn't really answer the question of whether starting kids seriously in sports when they're still in pre-school is a good idea. Clearly, it worked out well for Tiger Woods. But I have to wonder how many other children got burned out on a sport, or had difficult relationships with their parents because they felt dropping out of a sport, or not excelling in it, would disappoint their parents.

Last week, my oldest son, Jason, committed to Carnegie Mellon University's Tepper School of Business, where he will be playing NCAA football. He played a couple of years of tackle football in elementary school, but didn't really play seriously until 8th grade. We'll never know if he could've been a D-1 player, had we started him playing Pee-Wee football when he was 6 or 7. But we do know that in addition to playing football, he plays guitar, gets good grades, is in student government and has a girlfriend. If a child of four or five is spending three or more hours every day doing one single thing, does he or she have time to figure out if there are other activities they might enjoy more or be better at?

My sons have tried several different sports and instruments and other hobbies. Jason played basketball before decided to concentrate on football. Billy decided to join the wrestling team in middle school. He knew practically nothing about the sport, but learned and improved rapidly. My nephew - who now plays football - even took ballet lessons for a while. Micah plays flag football, basketball and baseball. He hasn't picked a favorite yet - and that's just fine with us.

I think it's great for parents to encourage their children, especially when they're very young, to try all different activities. When parents support their children in trying new things, they teach a valuable lesson about how important it is to be a lifelong learner, even if you're not fabulous at everything you try. There's much to be learned just by making the effort. The fact is that very children grow up to be professional athletes. But all of us grow up and have to face new and different experiences. We all have to reach outside our comfort zones sometimes, not knowing whether we'll fail or succeed. In the end, I think, that may be a more important skill to acquire than a killer backhand.

What do you think?

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amy buckman parenting reports, parenting, amy buckman
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