To start, I would like to let everyone know, all of my articles are purely anecdotal and opinionated based on my years of experience as a coach. Being involved as both a strength and conditioning coach that works with many individual sport athletes and as a past wrestling coach; I wanted to touch a little on some of the differences I have noted from my involvement from team based sports. To clarify, the term individual sport does not mean one does not work within a team. The strength of any individual lies in their training partners or team, but when they step on their perspective field of play, they are individuals. I believe what I have found is extremely interesting and would love to see further research on the topic by people that are far smarter than me and who would also most likely be individual sport athletes themselves.
For those of you that do not know me, I am fairly crass in my approach and you will quite often hear me joke about the social skills of the individual sport athlete. This is a generalization that I have adopted over the years and does not account for all of these athletes. In my experience, I have noted that there are some different social aspects between the individual athlete and the team based athlete. I do not know if some of these athletes are drawn to their sport because they like to beat to their own drum, if they are so driven that they do not want to rely on others for their successes or failures or if they just happen to love their sport. Before I go any further, I want to ensure you that I don’t care what sport your child or you did yourself, I just care that you were involved in sport. I truly believe in the power of sport in terms of shaping one’s life, regardless of the level in which they may have played.
To get back to the title, I am now at the age where all of my friends are cranking out kids and as we know, there is never an easy answer as to what is the best sport or discipline to put them in. My thought is to expose them to a mixture of both team and individual sports and see what they enjoy the most. When people ask me which sports to put their children in, I always recommend they encourage a mixture of both individual and team based sports. Here are the main sports I believe to help build your kids not only into better athletes as they age, but offer life skills that may not be picked up in math class.
· Promotes socialization of the kids. We live in the most technological time in history and between practice and games we can guarantee there are a few hours per week the kids are not looking at a screen to communicate.
· It is played primarily outdoors. Sometimes even when it is raining or cold outside. So parents should bundle up as well.
· The cost relative to some other sports is reasonable.
· The daily physical activity requirement for adolescents is about 60 minutes a day. Sure some kids stand around and pick their nose as I did dreaming of doing something else, but it is better than picking your nose while playing on your parents iPhone or ipad (for obvious reasons).
· There is an element of body control, body position, hand eye coordination, footwork, team work, team bonding etc. Whichever path your child may chose; this may serve as a stepping stone.
· You may save your kids life. I do not think I have to break this down much more, but learning water safety is an important aspect of life!
· The more we can get kids used to moving their bodies functionally in space, the better. Even if it is underwater!
· You can start at a very early age and most lessons encourage the parent to be in the pool with their kids at the same time.
· Most great schools have an amazing coach to student ratio. My friend Tony Kook of North Shore Taekwondo has approximately one instructor for every 5 to 6 kids. Although his philosophy may differ from other schools, most of them keep to a fairly good ratio.
· The setup of most individual sports (specifically martial arts and wrestling) involves a group of kids sitting in line facing toward their instructors. Unlike team sports, there are very few distractions, specifically if your child is hyper or easily distracted.
· The format of formed lines allows for those with shorter attention spans or learning disabilities to view those in front or beside them should they get lost. Couple this with a good coach to athlete ratio and you will see a great progression of success. This style of coaching also commands a certain level of attention by the athletes and makes it easier for the coaches to oversee the group.
· One of the key attributes of any of my elite athletes (regardless of sport) is having the combination of suppleness, body control/awareness, balance, hand and foot speed, and discipline. All of which are key aspects of this martial art.
· Many martial art schools are doing a great job of building confidence in youngsters and aiding in giving them the tools needed to deal with societal pressures and bullying.
· Respect! Part of being a martial artist is respecting your parents, instructors and fellow man. The earlier this is engrained, the better!
· Discipline in any sport is a very key defining factor. The belt system acts as not only a great goal setting tool but forces the discipline of the athletes to continue to hone their craft even when they are not in classes. This is something I am looking to steal and make my own in our industry for our young athletes of all sports!
· Plain and simple, gymnasts at the highest level are some of the most freakishly amazing athletes in terms of strength, power and flexibility. Having said that, I am not telling parents to push their young ones to be competitive gymnasts as it is one of the most grueling and physically demanding sports in the world.
· Body position and awareness. There is a pattern here if you haven’t noticed. Body position and awareness are skills that are difficult to teach and the earlier our athletes figure this out, the better!
· Tumbling, balance and jumping mechanics are cornerstones of understanding one’s body. The ability to figure out how the body should move in space is a great tool that will speed up progressions as your kids advance in their perspective sport.
· Concentration! I am no expert here, but regardless of one’s attention span; I like to think standing on a raised beam forces some level of concentration for anyone. It also forces a little critical thinking. There is a potential consequence for not paying attention and it cannot be blamed on anyone other than the individual doing the movement. I know this may seem harsh, but think about how many times you see a kid walking on a dark street dressed as a ninja while listening to their headphones. Are they thinking of consequences? Are these two relatable? I like to think to some degree maybe.
Before I conclude, I would like to note my observations and success that I have had with some of my kids that have been labeled to be learning disabled, attention deficit disorder, hyper, autistic etc. (I realize you can’t lump all of these in one, but there are some similarities in terms of learning styles). Because the majority of my work is done in either a team session or one on one, I have seen how behavior can change in these kids. I have noted that these kids tend to respond well to set patterns. We all learn in different ways: whether it is visual, audible or kinesthetic but how you tie it all together is what will help you achieve the best results. I will be touching more on this in a future article.
As always, there is more to this than what I have written and there are many other great sports or activities that may offer similar benefits as the ones mentioned above may. Of course all of these sports have their cons, but the concept behind them is solid in my opinion. I feel compelled to write this as I am blessed to work with athletes from all walks of life and I can honestly say that the majority of the top athletes I have worked with did not just specialize in one sport since an early age. They have filled their tool boxes with physical literacy skills learned at a young age. At the end of the day, the goal of youth athletics is to encourage physical activity, teach team work, set and achieve goals, make commitments to others, social interaction and to have fun. Please do not hesitate to contact me with any questions or comments!
Yours in Strength,
Director of High Performance Training and Staff Development
Level 10 Fitness Inc.