UFIT Youth Academy

Early specialisation of sports in kids - yes or no?

Most parents and young athletes know of Tiger Woods. Often, they’ll know about his route into the sport; hitting golf balls by the age of 2 and a half with razor sharp focus. In other words, Tiger was born to play golf, and everything he did was designed to make Tiger the Number 1 golfer in the world, and he achieved his goal.

But for most of us, and most of our children, early specialisation is not always a good idea. Tiger Woods, Maria Sharapova – and for every sports star who made their entire childhood about playing and being the number one in the world at that sport or event - there are literally a million children who, being forced to play and play and play the same sport, fell out of love with it and never picked up a racquet again.

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But when to specialise? If we as parents or coaches feel the need to hit our magical “10,000 hours” of practice in order to be elite, when else can we hit these numbers? Children want to achieve, and how is swimming, basketball and cricket going to help with my 9 year old rugby prodigy?

Be careful of the misinterpretation of this “10,000” hour golden rule. Anders Ericsson, the researcher who is credited with the so-called rule states his work was misinterpreted and popularised by Malcolm Gladwell in Outliers; it ignores the other elements of high performance and only focuses on deliberate practice. Top youth sport researchers suggest an alternative. Whilst competitors whose sports peak after the age of 20 - which, barring female gymnastics and some tennis players - covers most sports – they need to accumulate 10,000 hours of general sports participation. This does not mean 10,000 hours of that one particular sport.

A popular model of youth development is the Long Term Athletic Development Model, and its evolutionary successor the Youth Physical Development Model. Whilst in depth analysis of these models are beyond the scope of this article, there are certain stages of sporting development; the sampling years (6-12), the specialising years (13-15) and the investment years (16+).

Research has shown that multiple sport participation in the sampling years leads to better overall motor and athletic development, longer playing careers and increased confidence, as well as a reduced injury risk. Whilst the LTAD is by far from a perfect model and bases recommendations on chronological rather than maturational age, it gives us guidelines (+/- 2 or so years) that are good starting points.  Specialisation in a single sport accounts for 50% of overuse injuries in youth athletes. Young athletes who specialised were 70-93% more likely to be injured than those playing multiple sports! Variety of movement patterns, variety of opponents and sporting actions allow the young athlete to move in a myriad of patterns, meaning when things do change they have the ability to adapt and overcome the movement problem in front of them without potentially injury inducing compensations.

Playing multiple sports for as long as possible lends itself to greater creativity when out on the field, even during those later investment years. If a rugby player for example has spent his early years playing basketball and tennis, chances are his or her lateral movement and hand-eye coordination will be significantly developed, allowing a more creative movement to beat an opponent or find ways to get the try scoring pass away. In the US, a 2013 American Medical Society for Sports Medicine survey indicated that 88% of college athletes participated in more than one sport as a child.

Psychologically speaking, a child that plays multiple sports is far more likely to play sports into adulthood, either at the elite or non-elite level; and those who specialise early are more likely to suffer stress, burnout, decreased motivation and lack of enjoyment. The focus on only one sport means that their athletic confidence hinges on one thing and potentially one event! If a young athlete performs less than expected or desired at a swim meet, and all they do is swim, it has a huge negative impact. If the athlete performs less than expected at a swim meet but has a great time playing volleyball the next weekend, chances are they’re going to be far less worried about their swim meet!

Remember, sports are not academics; if a child falls behind in school, it can be hard to catch up. In sports, the opposite is often true. Trying many different sports throughout the year will almost certainly enhance your child’s ability to play their chosen sport when they begin their investment years; the science also dictates they might have more fun and be healthier when they get there, as well. Which is almost certainly the real challenge.

 


ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Joe is an Masters level UKSCA Accredited Strength and Conditioning Coach, with a wealth of experience working with athletes of all ages and standards from professional sportspeople to 6-9 year old youth athletes.

Joe’s training style focuses on the underpinning quality of strength and movement quality to assist performance of sporting goals, body composition, and general health and wellbeing. He focusses on evidence based programming, training smart and getting the basics right before all else. Joe believes in coaching with intelligence, training with intent and keeping things simple.


UFIT KIDS CAMPS

They’re back! UFIT Kids' Camps are on these Easter holidays!

Get your kids active and outdoors this Easter break at our popular Athlete Development and Rugby Development Camps. Running from 3 to 14 April for boys and girls aged 7 to 18 years, these camps will help your kids develop their physical and sporting abilities while they make new friends at the same time. Sign up now to secure their spot!

For more details see our website at www.ufit.com.sg/kids-camps


YOUTH ACADEMY

The academy is designed for 11-18 year olds to help improve their sports performance and overall fitness and health whilst having fun and being part of a motivating group setting.

The sessions enable participants to build a solid athletic foundation to excel in your future sporting or active life. Sessions run throughout the week, please see relevant times below. All levels and abilities are welcome.

Join us every weekday at UFIT one-north,  4pm to 5pm *except Wednesday. All levels and abilities are welcome.

For more details see our website at www.ufit.com.sg/youth-academy

Our UFIT October Kids Camps round up!

How the UFIT Holiday Camps helped kids learn new skills, improve technique and make new friends!

We kick-started our two weeks of fun with 53 kids ready to enhance their fitness, learn new skills, and improve their knowledge about the benefits of good nutrition.

Throughout the two weeks the kids started off with lunches that were not so much on the healthy side, but by the end they were actively heading home, using the notes from their nutrition talks and coming in with some deliciously healthy meals. Not only are our camps essential for kids to learn how to improve sporting abilities, but their diet is key. It’s great we have the opportunity to share our knowledge to get them up to speed at such an early age!

They had loads of fun flipping tyres, playing games and using ropes while making new friends. We noticed them developing their skills over that short period of time and really giving it 100% effort when they were with us.

Athlete Development Camp Coach Tom Clarke explains “The main aim of the week was to develop young athletes with a wide range of skills and abilities.  We could see this development happening as they listened to our tips and did their homework and came back each day with bundles of energy to learn more. We love these camps as we get to educate kids who love their sport and want to get better, it makes our job easy and rewarding.

We started each day with 30mins of warm-up co-ordination games, mobility and activation. We then moved to The Cage where we covered speed and agility, and did linear acceleration, top speed and change of direction. We used sleds, bands, wall balls and tyres and put the technique into game situations playing bib tag or relay races. 

We also hit the gym for a strength session. Our key focus was to improve their technique in fundamental movement patterns such as squats, hinges, presses, pulls, rotate and brace. This was done through a circuit of exercises such as push ups to deadlifts and much more”.


In the second week we saw an outstanding number of kids keen to develop their rugby skills at the Rugby Development Camp. Hear more from Frazer McArdell of what they got up to during the course of the week…

“We started our week with rugby handling skills to breaking down the catch and pass, strength and conditioning where we assessed their movement patterns to our nutrition talk where we covered basic nutrition for rugby performance which can be applied to a number of other sports." 

Over the next few days we covered rugby decision making under pressure, delved into strength and conditioning more by covering speed mechanics and repeated speed. Even more importantly we covered essential recovery techniques for professional rugby players. 

By the end of the week we re-capped all of the newfound knowledge on nutrition with some competitions on who had made the most changes to their lunches. We then went into what decisions can you make at the breakdown area and individual jobs within the team. We also played some contact based and situational games which is why everyone was here - to have some fun on the pitch”.

Hear it straight from our parents and kids:

“Josh did the rugby camp and had a fantastic week. He enjoyed everything, from the gym sessions to the skills training, and even the nutrition seminars! He came home suitably tired, muddy and happy every afternoon and slept like a baby. He said he would definitely like to do a similar camp next year. Thanks to all the coaches for a really good week of rugby,” Kerry, Cracknell, parent.

“The rugby camp was excellent. We learnt all about food to eat pre and post match, skills that will help us in matches, how to exercise so you don't hurt yourself, plus it was lots of fun,” James, age 11.

We’re dedicated as coaches and as a team to develop and educate your children early enough so that when they reach adolescence they will already be ahead of the game with the knowledge and education.

 

Let your child continue their growth at our next Kids Camps in April or get them signed up for a free trial at the UFIT Youth Academy that we run after school at 4pm to 5pm weekdays, except Wednesdays. Find out more information here.

 

April Kids Holiday Camps – save the date:

Athlete Development: 3-7 April 2017
Rugby Athlete Development: 10-14 April 2017

If you're interested in finding out more about the camps in April please don't hesitate to get in touch with our coaches right here.