Posted By Louis M. Profeta MD
I don’t care if your eight year old can throw a baseball through six inches of plywood. He is not going to the pros. I don’t care if your twelve-year-old scored seven touchdowns last week in Pop Warner. He is not going to the pros. I don’t care if your sixteen-year-old made first team all-state in basketball. He is not playing in the pros. I don’t care if your freshman in college is a varsity scratch golfer, averaging two under par. He isn’t playing in the pros. Now tell me again how good he is. I’ll lay you two to one odds right now — and I don’t even know your kid, I have never even see them play — but I’ll put up my pension that your kid is not playing in the pros. It is simply an odds thing. There are far too many variables working against your child. Injury, burnout, others who are better — these things are just a fraction of the barriers preventing your child from becoming “the one.”
So how do we balance being the supportive parent who spends three hours a day driving all over hell’s half acre to allow our child to pursue his or her dream without becoming the supportive parent that drives all over hell’s half acre to allow our child to pursue OUR dream? When does this pursuit of athletic stardom become something just shy of a gambling habit? From my experience in the ER I’ve developed some insight in how to identify the latter.
1. When I inform you as a parent that your child has just ruptured their ACL ligament or Achilles tendon, if the next question out of your mouth is, “How long until he or she will be able to play?” you have a serious problem.
2. If you child is knocked unconscious during a football game and can’t remember your name let alone my name but you feel it is a “vital” piece of medical information to let me know that he is the starting linebacker and that the team will probably lose now because he was taken out of the game, you need to see a counselor.
3. If I tell you that mononucleosis has caused the spleen to swell and that participation in a contact sport could cause a life threatening rupture and bleeding during the course of the illness and you then ask me, “If we just get some extra padding around the spleen, would it be OK to play?” someone needs to hit you upside the head with a two by four.
4. If your child comes in with a blood alcohol level of .250 after wrecking your Lexus and you ask if I can hurry up and get them out of the ER before the police arrive so as not to run the risk of her getting kicked off the swim team, YOU need to be put in jail.
I bet you think I’m kidding about the above patient and parent interactions. I wish I were, but I’m not. These are a fraction of the things I have heard when it comes to children and sports. Every ER doctor in America sees this. How did we get here? How did we go from spending our family times in parks and picnics, at movies and relatives houses to travel baseball and cheerleading competitions? When did we go from being supportive to being subtly abusive?
Why are we spending our entire weekends schlepping from county to county, town to town, state to state to play in some bullshit regional, junior, mid-west, southeast, invitational, elite, prep, all- state, conference, blah, blah, blah tourney? We decorate our cars with washable paint, streamers, numbers and names. We roll in little carpool caravans trekking down the interstate honking and waiving at each other like Rev. Jim Jones followers in a Kool-Aid line. Greyhounds, Hawks, Panthers, Eagles, Bobcats, Screaming Devils, Scorching Gonads or whatever other mascot adorns their jerseys.
Somewhere along the line we got distracted, and the practice field became the dinner table of the new millennium. Instead of huddling around a platter of baked chicken, mashed potatoes and fruit salad, we spend our evenings handing off our children like 4 x 200 batons. From baseball practice to cheerleading, from swimming lessons to personal training, we have become the “hour-long” generation of five to six, six to seven, and seven to eight, selling the souls of our family for lacrosse try-outs. But why do we do this?
It’s because, just like everyone else, we’re afraid. We are afraid that Emma will make the cheerleading squad instead of Suzy and that Mitch will start at first base instead of my Dillon. But it doesn’t stop there. You see, if Mitch starts instead of Dillon then Dillon will feel like a failure, and if Dillon feels like a failure then he will sulk and cower in his room, and he will lose his friends because all his friends are on the baseball team, too, and if he loses his friends then he will start dressing in Goth duds, pierce his testicles, start using drugs and begin listening to headbanging music with his door locked. Then, of course, it’s just a matter of time until he’s surfing the net for neo-Nazi memorabilia, visiting gun shows and then opening fire in the school cafeteria. That is why so many fathers who bring their injured sons to the ER are so afraid that they won’t be able to practice this week, or that he may miss the game this weekend. Miss a game, you become a mass murderer — it’s that simple.
Suzy is a whole other story, though. You see, if she doesn’t make the cheerleading squad she will lose a whole bunch of friends and not be as popular as she should (and she’s REAL popular). If she loses some friends, she will be devastated — all the cool kids will talk about her behind her back, so then she’ll sit in her room all day, eating Ding Dongs and cutting at her wrists. Then, of course, it is only a matter of time until she is chatting on the Internet with fifty-year-old men and meeting up with them at truck stops. And that is why every mother is so frightened when her daughters have mononucleosis or influenza. Miss cheerleading practice for a week, and your daughter is headed for a career in porn. It’s that simple.
We have become a frightened society that can literally jump from point A to point Z and ignore everything in between. We spend so much time worrying about who might get ahead — and if we’re falling behind — that we have simply lost our common sense. Myself included.
There was a time when sick or injured children were simply sick or injured children. They needed bed rest, fluid, antibiotics and a limitation on activity. They just needed to get better. They didn’t NEED to get better.
I know, I know. Your family is different. You do all these things because your kid loves to compete, he loves the travel basketball, she loves the swim team, it’s her life, it’s what defines him. Part of that is certainly true but a big part of that isn’t. Tens of thousands of families thrive in this setting, but I’m telling you, from what I’ve seen as a clinician, tens of thousands don’t. It is a hidden scourge in society today, taxing and stressing husbands, wives, parents and children. We’re denying children the opportunity to explore literally thousands of facets of interests because of the fear of the need to “specialize” in something early, and that by not doing this your child will somehow be just an average kid. How do we learn to rejoice in the average and celebrate as a whole society the exceptional? I’m not sure, but I know that this whole preoccupation is unhealthy, it is dysfunctional and is as bad as alcoholism, tobacco abuse, or any other types of dependency.
I would love to have a son that is a pro athlete. I’d get season tickets; all the other fathers would point at me and I might get a chance to meet Sandy Koufax. It isn’t going to happen, though. But you know what I am certain will happen? I’ll raise self-reliant kids, who will hang out with me when I’m older, remember my birthday, care for their mother, take me to lunch and the movies, buy me club level seats at Yankee Stadium on occasion, call me at least four times a week and let me in on all the good things in their life, and turn to me for some comfort and advice for all the bad things. I am convinced that those things just will not happen as much for parents of the “hour-long” generation. You can’t create a sense of family only at spring and Christmas break. It just won’t happen. Sure, the kids will probably grow up to be adequate adults. They’ll reflect on how supportive you were by driving them to all their games and practices and workouts. They’ll call the ER from a couple states away to see how mom’s doing but in time you’ll see that something will be missing, something that was sacrificed for a piano tutor, a pitching coach, a travel soccer tournament. It may take years, but in time, you’ll see.
1. PLAYERS TOUCH THE BALL MORE OFTEN.
In the 5 on 5 game, players can go almost the whole game without touching the ball. In 3 on 3, you could touch the ball almost every possession. More shooting, passing and dribbling opportunities. When the player gets more experience handling the ball during game situations, the player is going to improve at a faster rate.
2. MORE ROOM TO OPERATE.
Fewer players creates a less congested basket area. Six kids close to the hoop instead of ten crammed in, allows for freer movement to open spaces when “moving without the ball”. 3 on 3 gives them more room to operate and practice their skills.
3. LEARN THE GAME AT A FASTER RATE.
With only six players on the court, players are more inclined to run the pick-and-roll or screen away without a coach even telling them to do so, because there are fewer options out there. After awhile, they will start to figure things out for themselves which is exactly what you want the players to do. With fewer players on the court, it gives them a split second longer to recognize a situation.
4. PREPARE PLAYERS FOR 5 ON 5.
3 on 3 teaches players offensive spacing, moving without the ball, 1 on 1 skills, reading defenses, using screens, defensive skills and positioning and many other skills necessary to be an effective player in 5 on 5. These skills are extremely valuable and very effective when players begin playing 5 on 5 at a competitive level.
5. NO PRESSING, ZONES OR ELABORATE PLAYS.
Now, instead of spending time on breaking full court pressure, or half-court pressure and playing against a 1-3-1, 3-2 or 2-3 zones, coaches can focus on the FUNDAMENTALS. Instead of learning plays, players will learn HOW to play!
Are you currently in High School, working your butt off aiming for that college scholarship to play basketball? Or do you know someone that is? Here is a reality check on what your actual chances are of getting that scholarship to play Division 1 basketball.
Here’s the math:
There are currently 351 Division 1 teams that each offer 13 scholarships a year.
On average, that means there are 1141 available new scholarships each year.
However, 30% of Junior College/Prep School players take those scholarships (342 total) that leaves us with 800.
Additionally, 10% of all scholarships go to overseas players which means we need to take off another 114.
That leaves us with 686 players that Division 1 schools can sign directly out of High School in the US.
Now let’s do some sums. There are 38,400 public and private High Schools in the US that offer a basketball programme.
On average, there are 4 seniors that play for each varsity team.
This means there are 154,600 High School Seniors, give or take, trying to get 686 scholarships.
The math on that? 0.4%. Yes, as an American High School Senior you have a 0.4% chance of getting an NCAA Division 1 scholarship.
It gets worse though. Half of these scholarships will go to players 6’5″ or taller. So if you’re under 6’5″, reduce your chances to about 0.2%.
However, all is not lost. Division 2 programme offers 765 scholarships per year, and NAIA schools offers a thousand plus, half or full, scholarships. So in total this increases your odds to around a 1% chance of getting a scholarship to college if you’re a HS senior.
They say pressure bursts pipes or makes diamonds. The question is, are you going to use this as a sign you have no hope and give up, or use it as motivation to work even harder?
When Kobe Bryant speaks, the basketball world listens. On Friday night, after the Lakers were defeated at home by the Memphis Grizzlies to fall to 10-23 overall, Bryant channeled his frustration from a losing season toward the development of youth players in the United States.
After watching Memphis’ Spanish-born center Marc Gasol turn in another masterful performance, Bryant declared that Europeans players are more skilled than Americans. He blamed “horrible, terrible AAU basketball” for what he believes is the deterioration of fundamentals among players in this country, citing the Spurs’ diverse roster and the Gasol brothers as examples of Europe’s superior ability to teach the game.
Bryant offered advice to American youth programs in a way that only Bryant can:
“Teach players the game at an early age and stop treating them like cash cows for everyone to profit off of,” he said. “That’s how you do that. You have to teach them the game. Give them instruction.”
Blakeney’s decision leaves major ramifacations
The bizarre recruiting story of Skal Labissiere
You only need to know about the bizarre recruiting stories of Antonio Blakeney and Skal Labissiere over to last six months to know Bryant has a point. Like most things with the Lakers’ star this season, though, it’s complicated.
Grassroots basketball has changed dramatically in the last 20 years since Bryant was turning himself into a star at Philadelphia’s Lower Merion High School. Experience has helped color his perspective: he won his last two championships with Pau Gasol as his chief sidekick, but he’s also played with plenty of “AAU” products over the years. Even successful ones like Andrew Bynum seemed to find a way to irritate Bryant.
There’s no question Bryant knows the game, so his comments carry a certain significance. But unlike LeBron James, Kevin Durant and Chris Paul, all of whom host youth camps for elite young players every summer, Bryant is further removed from the current state of youth development.
He isn’t the only high-profile player to think this way, but his comments are still sweeping generalizations. With that in mind, here are three misconceptions about “AAU”.
1. “AAU ball” is not all encompassing
“AAU” isn’t even the right term. “AAU” is simply an organization within the broader scope of grassroots basketball, the general label for teams and leagues that play when the high school season is over.
High level grassroots ball is generally contained to three shoe company leagues run by Nike, adidas and Under Armour. There’s almost no streamlined regulation between the three leagues or any of the extra tournaments that take place during the year.
Grassroots teams pull their players from a variety of different places. Some teams only take kids from a certain city, some from one state, others from an entire region. Because of the way these teams are set up, many are unable to practice regularly when you factor in school obligations and the travel restrictions involved in getting the players together. In that sense, Bryant is getting at something.
In another, grassroots ball was never created to teach fundamentals. It about competition: getting the best players playing against each other.
The lack of structure and regulation dictates that every team and every league is going to be different. Some players are going to receive really good coaching. That’s the reality of the situation.
2. America is producing a ton of great young basketball players — and it’s not all athleticism
The NBA is loaded with young talent right now that came from the same scene Bryant is taking issue with. There aren’t many players in the history of the game as skilled and fundamentally sound as LeBron James, and he’s perhaps the biggest poster child for the system. From Anthony Davis to John Wall to Blake Griffin, every American-born star less than 30 years old came up through grassroots ball. It must be doing something right.
Bryant’s assertion that players today lack fundamentals rings a bit hollow, as well. Big men are more skilled now than ever. There weren’t always players nearly seven-feet tall who could shoot and put the ball on the floor, but that’s the way the game is going. There’s more of those types of players now than ever. Another example: all of the great young point guards in the NBA right now. Are Russell Westbrook, Damian Lilliard and Steph Curry lacking fundamentals?
While Bryant’s head might have been in the right place, he didn’t exactly nail down what he was trying to get at. A better way to say it might have been like this:
There are noticeable differences between the Euro game and the American one, but it doesn’t all come down to fundamentals.
3. The problems with grassroots ball extend beyond the lack of teaching
Bryant is right about one thing: grassroots ball is far from perfect. There are plenty of ways it can improved, but it probably isn’t going to happen the way it’s currently set up. You can thank NCAA rules and major corporations.
Grassroots ball has allowed elite young players to face elite competition throughout the spring and the summer, but it’s also making them play a lot of games. The schedule for a player like Jaylen Brown, currently the No. 2-rated player in the class of 2015, can be pretty insane. This summer, Brown crisscrossed around the world (not just the country) on a schedule that might be even more intensive than the one some NBA teams face.
Brown is a Georgia native. This past summer, he played in Treviso, Italy at adidas Eurocamp, went to Colorado Springs for USA Basketball’s U18 team, made two separate trips to Chicago (first for adidas Unrivaled camp and then for the Nike Global Challenge a month later) and was in D.C. for Kevin Durant’s camp. That’s just some of the traveling he did.
NCAA rules make weekends in the spring and the summer the most rigorous stretch on the schedule. College coaches can only watch kids in person during the “live period”, which amounts to six days in the spring and 15 in the summer. Because of that, kids are shuffled around the country to play at events and showcase themselves for the next level. That “Basketball Never Stops” shirt Nike makes isn’t lying.
Young players don’t come up the same way today as they did 30 years ago, but not all of the change is bad. Grassroots ball provides a shot clock (which many players have never played with) and college referees.
Bryant isn’t wrong about everything, but grassroots basketball also isn’t the abomination he might think it is. Playing with Jahlil Okafor or Emmanuel Mudiay, who were on the circuit just a year ago, next season might start to change his mind.
Posted In Messages for Kids, Physical Literacy, Problems in Youth Sports, Specialization:
The overwhelming majority of his recruits are multi-sport kids, is not new information, but it has caused quite a stir. Here is what it says in a nutshell:
To be an elite level player at a college or professional sport, you need a degree of exceptional athleticism. And the best medically, scientifically and psychologically recommended way to develop such all around athleticism is ample free play and multiple sport participation as a child.
Why? Well let’s see what the experts say:
Coaches and Elite Athletes:
Pete Carroll, former USC and now Seattle Seahawks Football coach, says here “The first questions I’ll ask about a kid are, ‘What other sports does he play? What does he do? What are his positions? Is he a big hitter in baseball? Is he a pitcher? Does he play hoops?’ All of those things are important to me. I hate that kids don’t play three sports in high school. I think that they should play year-round and get every bit of it that they can through that experience. I really, really don’t favor kids having to specialize in one sport. Even [at USC], I want to be the biggest proponent for two-sport athletes on the college level. I want guys that are so special athletically, and so competitive, that they can compete in more than one sport.”
Dom Starsia, University of Virginia men’s lacrosse: “My trick question to young campers is always, ‘How do you learn the concepts of team offense in lacrosse or team defense in lacrosse in the off-season, when you’re not playing with your team?’ The answer is by playing basketball, by playing hockey and by playing soccer and those other team games, because many of those principles are exactly the same. Probably 95 percent [of our players] are multi-sport athletes. It’s always a bit strange to me if somebody is not playing other sports in high school.”
Or in this interview with Tim Corbin, coach of NCAA Champion Vanderbilt Baseball, on why he chooses multi-sport athletes over single sport kids.
Or Ashton Eaton, world record holder and gold medalist in the decathlon, who never participated in 6 of the 10 required decathlon events until he got to the University of Oregon.
Or Steve Nash, who got his first basketball at age 13 and credits his soccer background for making him a great basketball player, a similar story to the 100 professional athletes interviewed in Ethan Skolnick and Dr. Andrea Korn’s Raising Your Game .
The list goes on and on.
What about the medical experts?
As I have outlined in my ebook “Is it Wise to Specialize?” and echoed in world renowned orthopedic surgeon James Andrew’s book Any Given Monday, there are strong medical reasons for not specializing at a young age:
Children who specialize in a single sport account for 50% of overuse injuries in young athletes according to pediatric orthopedic specialists.
A study by Ohio State University found that children who specialized early in a single sport led to higher rates of adult physical inactivity. Those who commit to one sport at a young age are often the first to quit, and suffer a lifetime of consequences.
In a study of 1200 youth athletes, Dr Neeru Jayanthi of Loyola University found that early specialization in a single sport is one of the strongest predictors of injury. Athletes in the study who specialized were 70% to 93% more likely to be injured than children who played multiple sports!
Children who specialize early are at a far greater risk for burnout due to stress, decreased motivation and lack of enjoyment
Early sport specialization in female adolescents is associated with increased risk of anterior knee pain disorders including PFP, Osgood Schlatter and Sinding Larsen-Johansson compared to multi-sport athletes, and may lead to higher rates of future ACL tears.
And the sport scientists?
In January 2015, I had the honor of sitting in a lecture with Manchester United Performance Coach Tony Strudwick, winner of 13 titles as the fitness coach for Manchester United’s first team. His advice was that a multi-sport background set up athletes for long-term success by lowering the rates of injuries and making them more adaptable to the demands of elite level play. “More often than not,” he stated in a recent interview with SoccerWire.com, “the best athletes in the world are able to distinguish themselves from the pack thanks to a range of motor skills beyond what is typically expected in a given sport.” He recommended tumbling and gymnastic movements, as well as martial arts, basketball, and lacrosse as great crossover sports for soccer.
Here are some other advantages I have previously written about:
Better Overall Skills and Ability:Research shows that early participation in multiple sports leads to better overall motor and athletic development, longer playing careers, increased ability to transfer sports skills other sports and increased motivation, ownership of the sports experience, and confidence.
Smarter, More Creative Players: Multi-sport participation at the youngest ages yields better decision making and pattern recognition, as well as increased creativity. These are all qualities that coaches of high-level teams look for.
Most College Athletes Come From a Multi-Sport Background: A 2013 American Medical Society for Sports Medicine survey found that 88% of college athletes surveyed participated in more than one sport as a child
10,000 Hours is not a Rule: In his survey of the scientific literature regarding sport specific practice in The Sports Gene, author David Epstein finds that most elite competitors require far less than 10,000 hours of deliberate practice. Specifically, studies have shown that basketball (4000), field hockey (4000) and wrestling (6000) all require far less than 10,000 hours.
There are Many Paths to Mastery: A 2003 study on professional ice hockey players found that while most pros had spent 10,000 hours or more involved in sports prior to age 20, only 3000 of those hours were involved in hockey specific deliberate practice (and only 450 of those hours were prior to age 12).
Are all sports the same?
No, they are not. They each require specific athletic, technical, and tactical skill sets. Some sports, in order to be elite, require early specialization, such as gymnastics and figure skating.
Other sports are so dependent upon physical prowess (American football, basketball, volleyball, rugby and others) that the technical skills and tactical know how can be developed later. There are many stories of athletes taking up these sports in their teens, even 20’s, and playing at a very high level because of the ability to transfer skills learned in one sport to another.
And then there are sports like hockey and soccer, which without a doubt require an early introduction to the sport. There are technical movements and skills that are most sensitive to improvement prior to a child’s growth spurt, and it is unlikely that a post-pubescent child is able to catch up if that is their first introduction to the sport.
HOWEVER, there is no evidence that pre-teen athletes in these sports should only play a single sport. As both the hockey evidence and the interview with Tony Strudwick mentioned above demonstrate, playing multiple sports early on sets these athletes up for longer-term success. They can better meet the demands of elite level play. They are less likely to get injured or burnout, and more likely to persist through the struggles needed to become a high-level performer.
If you want your child to play at a high-level, then the best thing you can do is help them find a sport that best suits their abilities, and help create an environment that gives them the best chance of success.
That environment is a multi-sport one. The evidence is in. It is pretty conclusive.
It is time for our youth sports organizations to not only allow but encourage multi-sport participation. Yes, it is tough on the bottom line. But ask yourself this:
Is your bottom line worth more than the well-being of the children you have been entrusted with educating?
So what do you think? Should kids play multiple sports? Only one? If you think specialization is the right path prior to the teenage growth spurt (excluding gymnastics and figure skating), then by all means bring some evidence and links to the discussion. And if not, then how about some thoughts on how we can stand up and change the status quo that forces kids to choose far too young.
Thanks to Urban Meyer and the poignant image of his recruiting class breakdown, we now have the opportunity to have this discussion.
We have the opportunity to serve our children better.
We have the responsibility to help them become better athletes by encouraging them to become all-around athletes.
And we can do this by letting them play multiple sports.
With summer at it’s midway point, I wanted to provide some motivation to help you get over the hump and stay on the grind.
If you want to be successful this winter, you have to put in the work this summer.
I got up early. He slept in
I trained with a purpose. He did a few push-ups.
I made 500 shots a day. He played H-O-R-S-E.
I watched my diet. He went to Burger King.
I worked on my weaknesses. He ignored his.
I studied film. He watched Family Guy.
I went to bed early. He stayed up all night.
I worked on my game. He worked on his tan.
I got there 30 minutes early. He came 2 minutes late.
I studied my playbook. He played Xbox.
I went the extra mile. He took the shortcut
I craved the uncomfortable. He enjoyed the warm & fuzzy.
I put my heart into everything I did. He just did enough to get by.
I had a vision of success. He feared failure.
I wanted it. He didn’t.
I won. He lost.
I am a champion. He is not.
By DAVID EPSTEIN (JUNE 10, 2014)
THE national furor over concussions misses the primary scourge that is harming kids and damaging youth sports in America.
The heightened pressure on child athletes to be, essentially, adult athletes has fostered an epidemic of hyperspecialization that is both dangerous and counterproductive.
One New York City soccer club proudly advertises its development pipeline for kids under age 6, known as U6. The coach-picked stars, “poised for elite level soccer,” graduate to the U7 “pre-travel” program. Parents, visions of scholarships dancing in their heads, enable this by paying for private coaching and year-round travel.
Children are playing sports in too structured a manner too early in life on adult-size fields — i.e., too large for optimal skill development — and spending too much time in one sport. It can lead to serious injuries and, a growing body of sports science shows, a lesser ultimate level of athletic success.
We should urge kids to avoid hyperspecialization and instead sample a variety of sports through at least age 12.
Nearly a third of youth athletes in a three-year longitudinal study led by Neeru Jayanthi, director of primary care sports medicine at Loyola University in Chicago, were highly specialized — they had quit multiple sports in order to focus on one for more than eight months a year — and another third weren’t far behind. Even controlling for age and the total number of weekly hours in sports, kids in the study who were highly specialized had a 36 percent increased risk of suffering a serious overuse injury. Dr. Jayanthi saw kids with stress fractures in their backs, arms or legs; damage to elbow ligaments; and cracks in the cartilage in their joints.
Because families with greater financial resources were better able to facilitate the travel and private coaching that specialization requires, socioeconomic status turned up as a positive predictor of serious injury. Some young athletes now face surgeries befitting their grandparents. Young hockey goaltenders repeatedly practice butterfly style — which stresses the developing hip joint when the legs are splayed to block the bottom of the goal. The sports surgeon Marc Philippon, based in Vail, Colo., saw a 25-year-old goalie who already needed a hip replacement.
In the Loyola study, sport diversification had a protective effect. But in case health risks alone aren’t reason enough for parents to ignore the siren call of specialization, diversification also provides performance benefits.
Kids who play multiple “attacking” sports, like basketball or field hockey, transfer learned motor and anticipatory skills — the unconscious ability to read bodies and game situations — to other sports. They take less time to master the sport they ultimately choose.
Several studies on skill acquisition now show that elite athletes generally practiced their sport less through their early teenage years and specialized only in the mid-to-late teenage years, while so-called sub-elites — those who never quite cracked the highest ranks — homed in on a single sport much sooner.
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Data presented at the April meeting of the American Medical Society for Sports Medicine showed that varsity athletes at U.C.L.A. — many with full scholarships — specialized on average at age 15.4, whereas U.C.L.A. undergrads who played sports in high school, but did not make the intercollegiate level, specialized at 14.2.
We may prize the story of Tiger Woods, who demonstrated his swing at age 2 for Bob Hope. But the path of the two-time N.B.A. M.V.P. Steve Nash (who grew up playing soccer and didn’t own a basketball until age 13) or the tennis star Roger Federer (whose parents encouraged him to play badminton, basketball and soccer) is actually the norm.
A Swedish study of sub-elite and elite tennis players — including five who ranked among the top 15 in the world — found that those who topped out at as sub-elites dropped all other sports by age 11. Eventual elites developed in a “harmonious club environment without greater demands for success,” and played multiple sports until age 14.
The sports science data support a “sampling period” through at least age 12. Mike Joyner, a Mayo Clinic physician and human performance expert, would add general physical literacy-building to the youth sports menu: perhaps using padded gymnastics gyms for parkour, which is essentially running, climbing or vaulting on any obstacle one can find.
In addition to athletic diversity, kids’ sports should be kid-size.
In Brazil, host of this month’s World Cup, kids are weaned on “futsal,” a lightly structured and miniaturized form of soccer. Futsal is played on tiny patches of grass or concrete or on indoor courts and typically by teams of five players.
Players touch the ball up to five times as frequently as they do in traditional soccer, and the tighter playing area forces children to develop foot and decision-making skills under pressure.
A futsalization of youth sports generally would serve engagement, skill development and health.
USA Hockey (which has barred checking in youth games) recently invited adults to play on a 310-by-130-foot ice rink to show them what it’s like for an 8-year-old to play on a regulation rink. The grown-ups’ assessments: “too much time between the action”; “it’s hard to communicate because everyone is spread out so far”; “you end up spending a lot of time in open space.”
Futsal, basketball and … padded parkour? Sounds like a strange three-sport athlete, and a perfect model for kids.
David Epstein is a reporter at ProPublica and the author of “The Sports Gene.”
I want to take this opportunity to say thank you to you. My daughter has attended various Bob Foley basketball training opportunities over the years — camps, clinics, and 3 on 3. She loves basketball, and she has been playing since she was in first grade. Although she would have loved to be on an AAU team, we never chose to get involved in AAU. When my daughter was in middle school, she never made the school team. She would always be chosen for first cuts and then cut for final cuts. Middle school girls basketball is very competitive, and often it seems that if you don’t play travel ball, you don’t make the cut. Well, my daughter kept playing rec ball and doing Bob Foley clinics when she could. Currently, she is a sophomore in High School. As a freshman, she made the JV team and had a fair amount of playing time on a team that only lost two games. For the current year, my daughter is a co-captain and starter on the JV team. Her love of basketball continues! She doesn’t aspire to play in college, but she is having a great time playing in high school. Thanks to Bob Foley Basketball, she was able to work on her skills over the years and ultimately succeed! Since she is a captain, I hear her talking to teammates and inspiring them with a few of the “Bob Foley tips” that I’ve heard you share over the years. Thank you for making a positive impact for youth basketball! I know my story is just one of many success stories from Bob Foley Basketball.