Are you an aspiring Athlete? You need to read this!
Youth sport and athletic development are two of my greatest passions and being able to work with kids who love their sport and want to chase their dreams is such a privilege. So it’s lucky I live in a sporting nation such as Australia as I have had the opportunity to work with some truly great athletes.
The youth netball world cup was recently held in Botswana and the Australian 21/U team narrowly missed out on gold in a 57 to 60 point match with New Zealand. Now some of the girls in this team would certainly be aiming to get to a professional level but I want to talk about younger athletes and how to help them reach this level or higher.
So let’s talk about Sarah, she is 11 years old and loves netball, in fact she dreams of one day playing for the Diamonds when she grows up. What should her parents, school and coach do to give her the best chance of chasing her dream?
We have all heard it takes 10,000hr of practice to master a skill right? So doesn’t it make perfect sense that for a kid to become a great athlete that they need to start as early as possible?
Well sort of, a child’s brain is full of potential connections that are just waiting to be given the right stimulus to join together and build a more resilient and successful athlete. But there is a big difference between developing an athlete and building a netball player.
Early specialisation is often considered specialisation into a single sport before the age of 12 and can reduce an athlete’s chance of reaching the elite level of their sport compared to later specialisation in the later teenage years. Generally, it is recommend that kids continue to engage in approximately 2-3 different sporting fields to create better rounded athletes. This concept is what underpins long term athlete development. Early specialisation only refines a skill where engaging in a variety of activities helps to build true athleticism.
Another reason to rally against early specialisation is that it can increase the risk of overuse and stress injuries. Missing intended training sessions due to injury is one of the major predictors of failure to reach competitive success at a higher level but for youth athletes the focus should be on the development of the whole person and protecting kids from unnecessary injury.
Being involved in multiple sports also allows kids to grow their social circles and gain many other life skills that may help them well beyond a sporting career but it also gives them more options as they grow up. We can probably all think of someone who was great at a sport as a kid but due to either mental or physical burn out started hating the sport they once loved and gave it up. Developing athleticism also provides transferable skills that can be applied across sporting settings that enables you to try out new sports that others may not even have the confidence to get started on.
Kids are playing less and spending more time in formal organised sporting setting when they do get time to play at all. This is the opposite of what we want for youth athletes they should be engaging in diverse movements and leaning transferable sporting skills in their younger years. So while Sarah may love netball we should be encouraging her to participate in as many other sports as she can even if it is just to try them for a short period to provide her with a new learning opportunity.
Ultimately athletes who are missing the foundations of athleticism are not just missing a link to their performance and well being they are missing the foundation on which they can grow all their other athletic skills. While changing the system in which a youth athlete trains and performs may be impossible in the short term. Connecting with a uniquely skilled coach or physiotherapist to help establish a long term athletic development pathway is far more practical and will help prepare a growing athlete for all the challenges they have ahead.
At PhysioWest we can assist you to reach your potential and unlock the forgotten link! Make an appointment today by calling 8352 3582 or book online
Published by Sam Stewart, Physiotherapist, PhysioWest