In today's youth sport world there are a number of trends and practices that on one hand are exciting and on the other are alarming.
On the exciting side there are some great things going on. Provincial sport programs are being integrated into school curriculum in secondary schools. Credited courses in many sports are being offered before, after and during school hours.
Curriculum is structured by the sport experts and delivered by qualified teachers in over 200 schools throughout B.C. This is a positive and growing partnership that students can opt into at little or no extra cost. These courses go beyond the traditional P.E. courses as they are sport specific. The benefits to the school and the sport are numerous but most important is the benefit to the participants - another example of athlete-centred programming that works! There are many other programs, events and opportunities available for our youth - exciting yet challenging for parents to select.
Knowing that coaches are taking certification courses, that sport organizations are extremely aware and knowledgeable of sport injuries (particularly concussions), that risk management is a priority with all reputable sport groups and that parent information is more and more plentiful - all very positive.
But as a parent - how do I choose? How much should my child be involved in? When to specialize? How much time should be spent in camp? Training? What should be the game to practice ratio? Lots and lots of questions and sometimes the answers are both difficult to find and contradictory.
There has been tremendous research and work done at the national and provincial levels resulting in the Canadian Sport for Life (CS4L) model of developing athletes.
National Sport Organizations (NSO's) and their provincial counterparts (PSO's) as well as all governments' sport ministries have adopted this model. Some of the most salient points are: All sports at the 13 and under level SHOULD support a multi-sport approach.
Individual sports and team sports have different guidelines for specializing.
Game to practice ration should be at worst 1:2 but better if more practices.
Overtraining (too much training in one sport) leads to overuse injuries, burnout, imbalanced muscle development and significant drop out.
Istvan Bali, Richard Way, Steve Norris and a plethora of experts in youth sports have developed the model that can be found at www.CS4L.ca. It is full of great information for coaches, athletes and parents! Just some warnings to the parent of a young athlete: Specialization at an early (pre-13 in team and pre-10 in individual) is NOT likely to enhance the athlete's ability to get better. Cross training (enjoying and participating in many sports) is most likely to assist.
Summer camps, year round academies, extra individual coaching - although they have their place do not over do these - again they lead to overuse, over training and drop out. Let summer holidays be summer holidays.Let kids be kids. Maybe one camp but look for camps that offer something special i.e. multi sport, decision making in sport, skill improvement.
Then of course there is the travel team - in all organized sport there is the 'temptation' to form teams and travel. Is it really all necessary? Ask the one question - why? The answer may be to get better competition - be wary - should it really be all about winning. Be even more wary of what age this begins at.
If it is all about wins and loses, statistics, trophies, ribbons......then ask yourself at what age is this appropriate......I would suggest that it is MOSTLY inappropriate before age 10 and not significant travel before 12....again just ask why? Hopefully in a future column we can discuss winning, losing, stats, standings, recruiting and managing risks.
Until then - Let Them Have Fun! Lawrie Johns is a longtime Richmond resident, a provincial sports administrator and a parent who helped raise two world class athletes.
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