Sunday, October 6, 2013

Should There Be An Age Limit?

As someone who began competing in track and field at the age of 4, I can relate to this whole child athlete thing pretty well.

I'll come down to practice on the track and there will be kids, little kids, there with their parents training for hours on end. Intense training too; 400s and hills, things of that nature. Kids have a lot of energy, wanting them to get outside and tire themselves out is one thing, but to be competitively training like that, so young, is that even healthy?

That kind of physical stress on such a young body does not bode well for the future. I hear these stories all the time; athletes who were amazing as kids, pure prodigies, who slowly start improving less and less and finally plateau somewhere around 7th or 8th grade. The human body can only take so much. Track is a unique sport in that their is no off season. I did a lot of other sports so I didn't start doing it year round until high school, but that was not the norm. Cross country goes straight into indoor track which goes straight into spring track. And the circle goes on and on. It's an 11 month sport. If since you were a toddler you're training 11 months a year of course you're gonna peak at 12! You just burn out. 

Just this summer there were kids who set world records in the 100 and 400 at junior Olympics. They were five. FIVE. And most of them were as fast as I am now at age 17. Maybe even faster.

I always marvel at how every year records are broken and new ones set and I ask myself, how is this possible? Is it because it's a trial an error process where the up and commers learn from their predecessors and adjust to be more efficient, or is it becuase each year that age group started training a year earlier than the one before it?

I go to training facilities where they have toddler classes, little kids lifting, squatting, doing ladder drills and high knees.

I've talked to some of these parents and here's the rationalization:
Of course there's the parents vicariously living out athletic dreams through their kids and pushing their kids to be the Olympians they didn't have the talent to be, that's always a given, but on the other hand,  College sports are more and more competitive, which means it's harder to get a spot, which means it's harder to get a scholarship. In an economy like this, it's better to spend the $1,000 for a personal trainer for your kid than the $50,000 a year (and going up) for tuition.

I can't say it's not a sound argument.

One sport I know is very political is travel soccer, I have a lot of friends who play it. If you weren't on the rec. team since age 2 and didn't have a trainer, you're less likely to get on the travel team. And if you're not on the travel team you're less likely to get on the high school team. And if your not on a travel or high school team you can't get scouted by a college, which means no scholarship. 

The longer you do any craft the better you'll be at it, that's just fact. For a parent to push their child to reach their full potential in something makes sense...

But is it fair for the kids? 

I mean eventually the sport will become habit, pure muscle memory, if you start them young enough... But that doesn't mean they like it, and they certainly never asked to be born into financial issues. It's kind of like how school was back in the day when you didn't understand the value of an education and all that jazz. School was kind of annoying. You had to wake up early, do stuff you didn't always feel like doing, and it took up a lot of time, but it was sometimes okay because you could see your friends, every so often you did fun stuff, and you vaguely knew one day it would all pay off. 

I'm not saying doing sports as a kid is a bad thing, I actually think it's very important. It lays the ground work for a healthy lifestyle, teaches kids how to socialize, be a team player, be a leader, all that good stuff. BUT there's a difference between recreational sports for fun, fresh air, and exercise,  as opposed to training 4 hours a day 7 days a week with a lifting and diet regimen. 

I understand parents just want the best for their kids and want to put them in the best position possible for a bright future, but that doesn't always translate. There's a fine line between a gentle push in the right direction and a full on shove.

I think kids need time to just be kids. 

Rule of thumb: If your child hasn't reached a double digit age, it's too early to get on them about training/scholarships. 

They'll have plenty of time to worry about money in the future, let them have their childhood. 


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