Kids: Not Yet Olympians!

Riley Preiss, Editor

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In 2018 it seems like a necessity for kids to be as involved as possible. From as young as kindergarten, children are signed up for a slew of activities, and sometimes by as young as third grade, they are already categorized as “basketball player” or “football player”… forget that they have been on this earth for literally nine years and quite possibly may still need to try a few new things out to find their passion. (If a third grader can even have a passion?) Some parents see this as beneficial, often times already planning future successes and ways for them to improve in areas they believe their children naturally excel. How nice of them, right? However, is the pressure too much for young minds? Many researchers have found the answer, and to put it simply… yes. Additionally, the toll that such specialization so young has had on the physical state of young athletes’ bodies is a cause for concern. In such a competitive society, where everyone wants their kid to be the next Olympian or to earn a college scholarship, there should be more done to preserve the youth with their impressionable minds and still developing bodies.

Research shows that specialization in sports at too young of an age has more negative effects on children than positive. Dreams of becoming a professional athlete take root at a young age, and it is becoming more common for children to receive the intensity of professional training younger and younger. An article by Brad Ferguson and Paula Stern, researchers from the Canadian Memorial Chiropractic College, states that before the age of 10, kids are “typically not psychologically mature to understand the importance, responsibility, commitment and ramifications of year-round training in sport.” This makes sense, as it has become more and more common for star athletes to not even enjoy the sports at which they excel by the time they get to high school. Let’s be realistic, the girl who has been playing travel soccer for the last 12 years, 6 days a week, and on three different teams (not to mention the personal one-on-one weekly coaching sessions) might feel a little burnt out by the time she can play for her high school’s team.

What’s worse is the toll on athlete’s bodies. As a dancer myself, I have seen the physical strain that comes from  year-long intensive training. Many of my friends have recurring injuries, resulting from not allowing themselves enough time off to heal or overworking the same muscles over and over again, making themselves susceptible to knee, hip, and ankle injuries especially. This isn’t just common in dance. Hockey players, soccer players, basketball players, and pretty much every athlete you can think of have had an outbreak in injuries in recent years. Dr. Sasha Carsen, a pediatric surgeon at the Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario in Ottawa, said the number of pediatric sports injuries has “exploded” in recent years as more children get involved in competitive sport at a younger age. It is because, “kids who specialize in a single sport are exposing their growing joints, bones and soft tissues to repeated stresses.” The most important thing children should do to avoid such recurring injuries is rest.

Downtime is essential to athletes, especially when they are young. It is alarming for many experts to see the negative effects on children who have been competing on such extreme levels already taking root by teenage years. Hip replacements and sports-injury surgeries aren’t uncommon for 15 and 16 year olds; this leads experts to fear what their physical states will be like by the time they reach their 60s and 70s. They have been searching for the best preventative measures and a 2013 study found that sampling a variety of sports during early childhood, and delaying specialization until adolescence, can result in less stress, more enjoyment, and reduce the risk of physical injuries and burnout.

It can be argued that specializing in what a child is good at from a young age is beneficial for them. Many parents feel that by allowing such commitment they are teaching their children to strive for their goals and helping them chase their dreams. For parents like those of Connor Cose (a 16-year-old hockey player from Ottawa- who has undergone a hip replacement this past year), they say, “He tried other sports, including soccer, swimming and lacrosse, but all he ever wanted to play was hockey. Within a couple years, Connor was playing competitively, training about six times a week year-round.” Many parents have a similar story. Often times coaches and trainers also advocate for sport specialization. It is common for them to recommend specialization to athletes’ parents when they come across a young athlete with a lot of potential. It is true that for some young athletes, specialization works out. College scholarships and recognition in athletics could be in their future– but is that worth the risk of mental and physical strain? This is something parents must weigh.

In 2019, it is important for kids to have time to be kids. Pressure doesn’t need to be packed onto them to be the best kid on the team in elementary school. Third graders DEFINITELY should not be attending lacrosse practice with the mindset of gaining a college scholarship. Specialization too early is more negative than positive; a healthy mix of many sports, hobbies, and downtime can help prepare kids for success in the future and protect adolescents from being too burnt out or injured to pursue what they love by the time they reach high school.

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Kids: Not Yet Olympians!