June 28, 2015
The desire of parents to give their children certain advantages over others and awaken the spirit of competition is becoming an increasingly common practice to start the athletic training at an early age. In some sports such as swimming, parents enrolled children even from two months of age. However, despite its benefits, some experts question the results in the medium and long term of enrolling children in sports at an early age.
The idea of enrolling early children in sport could be motivated by the great opportunities available for outstanding young people in sports. In the United States, for example, it is very common for the best schools and universities, which are also very expensive, offer athletic scholarships through sports and athletics. In fact, if we analyze the case of great sports figures, we might find that most of them have started in sports at an early age. Among some cases we might mention:
However, we must be careful not putting breeding on genetics. Observing the ages when the professional players started can easily lead us today to statistical deception known as selection bias because we do not see the performance of all those who started early in sports and did not become professionals.
How and from what age parents begin to train their children?
There are a variety of youth sport training programs ranging from video programs and sports clubs to specialized gyms. For example, Doreen Bolhuis, sports trainer specialized in children, created a company called Gymtrix, dedicated to developing video programs to start in sports for children from six months old. These videos motivate children in different sports by making games that resemble a specific sport.
Another method is the registration of children in specialized sports clubs, such as Lil’s Kickers, a football academy that works with children from 18 months.
We can also mention the case of specialized gyms in children. Some of the most famous world brands include Little Gym, with a presence in 20 countries, starting classes for children from 4 months old. Of the nearly 100,000 children enrolled in Little Gym, 25% are less than two years old. Another famous chain is My Gym, with some 200 branches in the United States, where 55% of children enrolled are less than 2.5 years old.
Are there problems enrolling children in sports at an early age? There are multiple opinions for and against these practices. Some people criticize the idea that enroll children at an early age in the sport gives them an advantage over the rest, because this underestimates the role of genetics in determining athletic success. (marathons is an interesting example where there are cases of world champions who have started in the sport from 20 years old). On the other hand, other experts argue that each child bears his own calendar of motor or physical development and, therefore, the attempts designed to disrupt the normal development of children are doomed to fail. Furthermore, children could be exposed to injury at an early age, which would have very negative impacts on their development in the medium term; however, the risk of injuries may be considerably diminished if the environments are well controlled.
Finally, before considering inducing children at an early age in a sport, it is important not to underestimate the benefits of free play. That is, playing without entering the rigor that requires training in a specific sport. Play is important and necessary for the development of children because it helps them to develop mental and social skills that will be relevant in adulthood. Moreover, playing children implement their creativity and to some extent their ability to cooperate, share, negotiate and even resolve conflicts with other children.