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.

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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.

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

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14 Factors Colleges Look for in Admissions

I recently read an interesting article by Peter Kuo about state bill SCA-5. He believes the bill will discriminate against Asians in college admissions. It’s called reverse discrimination by many. Because of this, he’s running for the state senate.

images-7His article hit home, because of my own kid. We thought every school would be clambering for him to come to their schools, but he received small letters — instead of big packages — by 8 out of 9 universities. I don’t know for sure, but it seems this phenomenon called reverse discrimination might have been at play for him, too.

My son and friend at high school graduation.

My son and friend at high school graduation.


He had a resume as a high school student that most adults would envy. Things like top 10 student in the county, Boys’ State, a talented swimmer and musician, a tutor in math and english, president of the Latin and JSA clubs, awarded honors for academics by John Hopkins. Add to that valedictorian and high SAT scores, and community service — who wouldn’t want him? Well, Stanford, Harvard, Columbia, Yale, Cal, UCLA and USC to name a few.

imgres-1Because of his GPA, the UC’s had to take him. (It’s called Identification by UC as being ranked in the top 9 percent of your high school class at the end of your junior year Eligible in the Local Context or ELC). So, he ended up at UCSB. At first he didn’t like it, because he was sorely disappointed with the flood of rejections. But, after getting through his freshman year, he began to thrive and love his new home.

Personally, I think I would have chosen UCSB over all the other schools he applied to. There’s something to say for being surrounded by the gorgeous majesty of mother nature every single moment of your day!  Also, I’m not sure the “big name” schools are all they are cracked up to be. Here’s an interesting article on this subject.  Of course, it’s up for debate, and if he’d been accepted to Stanford, I’m sure we’d have loved it!

View of the breathtaking UCSB campus.

View of the breathtaking UCSB campus.

So, what do universities look for when reading applications? There are 14 key factors that the UC schools use. Each UC campus has a few extras they consider  Here’s one point that stood out for me that my son didn’t have in the list of 14:

  1. Academic accomplishments in light of your life experiences and special circumstances, including but not limited to: disabilities, low family income, first generation to attend college, need to work, disadvantaged social or educational environment, difficult personal and family situations or circumstances, refugee status or veteran status.

You can read about all 14 factors here

At Cal Berkeley they add another factor that my son didn’t have:

In addition to a broad range of intellectual interests and achievements, admission readers seek diversity in personal background and experience.”

On the UC websites  it specifically states: “Race, ethnicity, gender, and religion are excluded from the criteria.” But in the factors I’ve highlighted, I see a large loop-hole to do just that — diversity in personal background?

So what could my son have done differently to be accepted? Intern at a major university with a professor and be published in journals? Or begin the ‘comic con of the desert’ he talked about?

Or, he could have stuck with his 12 years of swimming. Swimming can and will open doors to higher education. I’ve written a lot about swimming and college admissions in my blog.

Swimming opens doors for college.

Swimming opens doors for college.

On the other hand, my son studied, loved learning, was hard working and followed his passions.

In the end, you have to learn to be happy where you are. Making it into a name brand school, or being denied admissions to the school of your dreams isn’t the end of the world. Your four years in college — where ever you may be — are only as good as you make them.

Do you have any experiences with rejections from colleges? Please comment. I’d love to hear about them.