When Should Children Specialize In Sports? Part II

katgirls

This is one of my earlier posts about sports specialization. I still agree with most of this, but I see one factor about earlier sports specialization that isn’t so great–repetitive use injuries. However, I don’t know if a swimmer’s shoulder would still be injured if they started at ages 9 to 11, versus age 5. That’s a tough question to answer.

 

“Do you ever get tired of trying and coming up short of your goal? You’re just not getting where you want to be and you’ve tried and tried again? For many people the capacity to push through obstacles to get where they want to go demonstrates a strength of character trait groomed and implanted in their early childhood. Changing one’s character later in life happens, but it’s usually difficult.” ***

Two common complaints against specializing in a sport at an early age are: it causes burnout, and there’s no clear advantage to it. (Last week I wrote about isolation and specialization.) 

I disagree with both based on my experience as a swim parent. What I find odd is how many athletes are going to burn out if they are achieving success? If they’re winning races and moving on to the next level, they will feel a sense of accomplishment.

I have a friend who was captain of his golf team at Harvard. He has a zero handicap. I asked him if he ever got bored playing golf.

He said, “I never get tired of hitting great shots.”

There appears to be a clear advantage of specialization in a single sport — at least sports like golf or swimming, where there are specific skills and techniques. If a child is jumping from sport to sport, rather than focusing one sport, that child probably won’t progress much — unless they are truly gifted athletes.

kattowel

When swimmers hit a plateau and don’t improve for more than a year — which is like multiple years to a person 11 or 12  years old — but they stick with it and eventually break through and improve — the life lessons learned are incredible! Talk about a reward!

Take my daughter who is turning 18 this week. She began swimming at age five. She had lots of improvement until about age 11 when she couldn’t break the one minute mark for the 100 free for more than a year and a half. I’ll never forget her frustration, but she also showed determination. She didn’t quit. She didn’t try another sport for a season here or there. She worked very hard and rarely missed swim practice.  At a Junior Olympic swim meet — she went 57 seconds in the 100 free.

Her coach asked her, “What happened to 59 and 58?”

She said with a smile, “They are highly over-rated!”

The lesson she learned was that with hard work, success will come eventually. In the meantime, perseverance was nothing to sneeze at. She’s still swimming, by the way, and earned a college scholarship.

kattrophy

Regardless when a child starts a sport, they have to love it! They can’t be putting in the hours to please their parents or their coach. Also, when they are very young, it has to be fun. If they aren’t having fun, it’s tough to keep them in the sport.

Building character and strength in our children can be a part of their specialized sports experience!

***The quote is from SWIMSWAM: Jason Lezak & Seeds of Third Effort (worth reading!) by Chuck Warner, coach and author of And Then They Won Gold: Stepping Stones To Swimming Excellence: This article is about Jason Lezak’s difficulties in college swimming and how it prepared him for the most amazing Olympic relay. Ever. 

More valuable info for parents about swimming can be found at USA SWIMMING.

katdive

When do you think children should specialize in a single sport? What advantages and disadvantages do you see?

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Things Your Daughter Will Be Surprised to Learn about High School and College Sports

My daughter diving in a competition with her club team at the East LA City College pool.

My daughter diving in a competition with her club team at the East LA City College pool.

I Am Woman Hear Me Roar or You’ve Come a Long Way Baby, Part II

Isn’t it strange that women swimmers a few decades ago ended their swim careers in their teens, while it’s not uncommon to have women compete in their 20s and 30s today?

I was talking to Bonnie Adair — a former swimmer who held 35 National Age Group records during her career — including the 50-meter free for 8-and-unders that stood for 29 years. She quit swimming at age 19. Contrast that to say Olympian gold medalists Dara Torres, who swam in her fifth Olympics at age 41, Natalie Coughlin, still competing at 32, or Janet Evans who swam in the 2012 Olympic Trials at age 40.

Dara Torres

Dara Torres

 

Janet Evans

Janet Evans


What has changed so much in swimming since the 1970s that gives women the ability to still compete throughout their 20s and beyond?

Natalie Coughlin

Natalie Coughlin

I interviewed Bonnie Adair, the head coach of Loyola Marymount in LA, for another writing project I’m undertaking. She began swimming at age five and was an amazing and gifted swimmer. She said after she graduated high school she wanted to train for her third Olympic Trials. She lived at home with mom and dad and commuted to college — so she could still swim with her club team, Lakewood Aquatics coached by the legendary Jim Montrella.

images-6She noticed one day that there were no guys in her training group. They had all gone to swim on scholarship at colleges such as UCLA and USC. The girls did not. Why not, you ask? Because they didn’t have college swim teams for women! 

images-7Isn’t that stunning? My daughter, age 18, is swimming right now — this very minute — at a D1, PAC 12 school (Go Utes!). It was always her dream — since she was five years old — to swim in college and go to the Olympic Trials. She took it for granted that she had the opportunity, and that if she worked really hard, she could possibly achieve those dreams. She’s made the college dream come true and she has a couple seconds to drop for Olympic Trials 2016.

I was shocked and stunned to realize that these dreams were not remotely possible for women just a few years older than me! Their swim careers were cut short if they wanted to have a college experience where they lived on campus and were away from home. It was difficult or nearly impossible to keep competing with a club team for many years past high school.

images-5When I was in high school, we had no pool or high school swim team, boys or girls. I remember we had girls track and field and tennis. Cheerleading was the big thing for girls to do. Cheer tryouts was one of the horrors of my teen life, a total embarrassment that makes me cringe remembering being put on exhibition in front of the entire student body.

We didn’t have girls basketball or golf and I played golf. Since I didn’t make the cheerleading squad, I tried out for the boys golf team with my lifelong friend and fellow golfer Christy.  We were allowed to go to all the practices with the guys. We were the last group out on the course  — a twosome.  We were never included in any of the tournaments or competitions. I honestly don’t know if we were that much worse than the boys — or if it was because we were girls.

I wrote about how far along we’ve come from the time my parents told me I was going to college to get my MRS degree and when girls were required to take home ec in high school in “I Am Woman Hear Me Roar, or You’ve Come a Long Way, Baby!” Our young women take all of this for granted. They are truly lucky and blessed to be alive today in the United States.

Of course, the main reason there are women’s collegiate sports today and weren’t say before 1972 can be summed up as Title IX — which has its benefits and its unintended consequences. This will be discussed on another day.

bathing_beautiesWhat high school and college sports did you participate in? Were there girls teams for all the boys sports?