This article was originally published in Family Matters magazine and has been republished here with their permission.
We’ve all heard the Sidney Crosby story; his parents knew at a young age that he was destined for greatness. Now parents watch all practices extra carefully to try to figure out when their child should specialize in one sport, but is there a right age to do this?
Leigh Evans of Halifax calls herself a Pool Mom, and with two daughters specializing in aquatic sports, an 8-year-old diver and a 10-year-old swimmer, it’s no wonder. She says she and her spouse work their schedule around the lengthy practice hours for their young athletes.
“For my 8-year-old, I think the time she practices is a good fit for her ability, but not necessarily her age; 8 is young to commit to twelve hours a week of training. She loves her sport, though, and enjoys the time she trains,” Evans says. “For my 10-year-old, she does around five hours per week, which seems to be a good fit for both her ability and age.”
Evans says they’ve chosen to allow their children to focus on one sport for now as she finds it gives them more time for unstructured activities.
“If there is a choice between packing their schedules with three or four sports, or having a busy schedule with just one sport, I will always choose the one sport,” Evans says. “I like my kids to still have time to come home after school and play outside, or go to the library, or just play with their friends.”
Amy Walsh, Director of Sport Development at Sport Nova Scotia, says that diving, the sport Evans’ youngest daughter is in, along with some others like gymnastics, and figure skating, require early specialization; however typically children under twelve should be encouraged to sample multiple sports, and not worry about specializing until their teens.
Walsh points to the Long Term Athlete Development Model that shows how much a child should be practicing a sport for their age, and says that by trying several sports children develop physical literacy.
“When children are learning to read, we start with the ABC’s and then progress to words, then sentences, and eventually stories,” Walsh says. “Physical literacy is similar in that we must first teach the fundamental movement skills so children will have the competence and confidence to try many different sports and physical activities.”
Walsh understands that parents may worry that their child will miss out by not being involved in one sport year-round, but claims that’s not the case.
“[Research] showed that to reach excellence and elite levels in a sport, single-sport training is not the vital factor in determining success; however developing physical literacy and specializing late is,” Walsh explains.
She says the main thing is to let kids have fun exploring sport in their early years.
“If kids are playing a variety of sports with a focus on fun and hard work, with time they will find their own preferred path in sport,” Walsh says. “They will also have the best chance of being active for life. And isn’t that really the whole point?”I'm curious - did you know what your sport was early on? Did you focus on just one, or try several sports?