We see the trend to sport specialization happening all around us. It seems kids are always getting pulled to do more and more of each sport and focus on particular sports at a young age.
Parents are told that if their kids don’t specialize in a specific sport their child will not be able to play at the next level or on the elite team. They are told about how much work it takes to develop the skills required and that this can only be done through specialization.
The truth is that most of the time when kids specialize early it hurts their overall athleticism. There is an alternative to specialization and it is to develop a foundation for overall athleticism.
This foundation includes non-sport specific abilities such as running, jumping, kicking, throwing, catching, tumbling, balance, coordination, and a host of other skills, not to mention the mental and social aspects of sports. This foundation cannot be developed optimally inside the early specialization model.
Once there is a foundation formed, sports skills can more easily be adapted to. The wise man builds his house on the rock. You cannot teach a kid to hit a baseball if the kid cannot get into an athletic position. In addition, the athleticism multiplies the skills. You can be as technically proficient as you can be but the more powerful athlete will generally be more successful.
The Long Term Athletic Development Model
The long term athletic development model (LTAD) is designed to give kids appropriate training throughout their lifetime. It is not just for children but for everyone. It is based on the mental and physiological stages every person goes through throughout their life. There are times when we have the highest capacity to add strength. There are times when we have the best opportunity to learn skills. And there are times when we are most able to focus, train, and compete at a high level.
The LTAD is a system that uses this information to help kids get the most out of their athletic careers and to help them develop a love for being active and healthy throughout their lifetime.
Let’s start with what this does not mean. It doesn’t mean you have to play every sport or be involved in every activity. It doesn’t mean you can’t be on a travel team or that you can’t compete at a high level and develop sport specific skills. And it doesn’t mean you can’t work really hard on a specific sport.
It is important for kids to play at a high level and to compete. There are valuable lessons to be learned through this. The problem isn’t the opportunities for these activities. The problem is the approach. Parents and coaches have to keep things fun and keep things in perspective. Winning is important. Experiencing lots of different activities is also important. The opportunities to play on travel teams and participate in clinics and tournaments are a good thing. The problem is how we deal with them as parents. The first people to get burnt out are often the parents, not the kids. We need to shift the focus to helping the kids be successful and happy. Don’t give in to the pressure to do things. Decide for yourselves what you are going to do and then go enjoy it with your kids.
It is alright to say no to things. You don’t have to have an excuse. You can just say no. But it is also important to keep kids involved and active.
It takes a lot of time and effort to be a parent of an active and athletic child. There are lots of demands from everywhere. This doesn’t stop with sports. Think about the pulls from your job or your church. It takes commitment but it can be very rewarding to help your kid succeed.
So, should you let your kid play on the elite travel team?
Elite teams and travel teams can be really fun, but you have to approach it like that and have fun. I loved playing travel sports and competing at a high level. We made friends, and we got to see different teams, stay in different towns, and eat different food. It was a blast and I got to spend a lot of quality time with my family on these trips. Some of my best memories of growing up are of tournaments I played in.
But my best memories are of playing catch with my dad in the back yard (I believe this is the best time you can spend with your kid) and staying after basketball or hockey practice and playing with my dad or friends or coaches long after our actual practice was over. This was the most fun and the best work I got in at the same time and it was outside of the actual practice and we just did it when we had time and when we wanted to. I worked really hard at baseball, but I played lots of other sports. I played a lot both inside and outside of practices and games for each of those sports.
These experiences have led me to a life of activity and involvement. I still love to compete. I still love to train. I still love to play. Isn’t that what everyone wants for their children?
Does it take a lot of time to be involved in a lot of activities? Yes. But if you take the time to do it with your kid you won’t regret it and neither will your child. So give your kid the opportunity to be successful with good coaching an a lot of experiences and support.