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NACAC Coaching
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User since:
Jan 13th, 2013
Posts: 338
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mattnorminton said 4 months ago

Early Sports Specialization is Eroding Youth Sports

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  • anonymous Anonymous
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    Report    REPLY #51 

    Anonymous said 4 months ago

    I think we need to be careful to not shift too far in the opposite direction as well. Right now all the literature is saying we need to pull back, but knee jerk reactions are never the right answer

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  • oldster User since:
    Sep 25th, 2013
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    Oldster said 4 months ago

    Quoting: Runningman
    "Too much success too soon has other potential problems and often leads to kids suddenly becoming disenchanted when down the road they come across competition that is better than them. Suddenly junior isn't winning every race and that leads to quitting the sport.

    Successful preteens rarely continue their winning streaks into their high school years. You need to prepare him for that. How to do that effectively is somewhere in that mythical parenting manual we all wish we had.

    Good luck"


    Training to win at the early age group level (early youth or younger) is a very risky proposition in this sport. Winning something relatively big at an early age without particularly trying can also become more of a burden than an advantage in the development process.

    I actually had something of a natural experiment in this regard (albeit with a very small sample size) unfold right in my own home a few years ago.

    Two siblings, female and male, are exposed to the sport in exactly the same way a few years apart (primary school xc and track-- no club involvement and no year-round training). They obviously have very similar genetics and exactly the same home life, but one wins almost everything he races, including midget OFSAA XC on extremely minimal training and no other sport involvement. The other doesn't even make OFSAA in grade 9 XC (but does in track, finishing 7th in the 800m). The first more or less quits after winning OFSAA (but with very little insight at the time into why he no longer wanted to compete), while the other continues, becoming more and more serious as the years go by. The first makes a brief return to the sport in his late teens and again runs very well, but does not win. The second does not win anything at all meaningful (best OFSAA finish remained 7th), but suddenly takes off as a junior, making two national teams and earning a full NCAA ride, where she became a second team All-American and 3x conference champion (in a strong conference--ACC).

    When asked to reflect on it all now, a few years on, the first said he felt immediate pressure from the attention of having won OFSAA in grade 9, before he really had chance to figure out if he actually liked training and racing (he didn't, ultimately). He wonders if things might have been different had he had a more normal intro to the sport (say, if OFSAA had had no age groups, and he'd finished much further back, against older runners). The second said she loved the sport from day one, and felt no pressure to achieve at any particular level, just a keen desire to get better and eventually perhaps win something meaningful.

    Kids clearly handle winning at early ages differently; but, I've learned as both a parent and a coach that it is usually more trouble than it's worth. When a kid does win a lot early (e.g. a Brogan M.) without doing a ton of training, you of course learn to deal with it as a coach; but, to actively try to make it happen (by, e.g., having kids out-train their peers*) is definitely inviting trouble, both in terms of a kid's quality of life and long term athletic development. A nice, gradual development process is best, if it can be engineered. A kid who could be winning early won't miss anything if he/she doesn't know it, and then there is always a sensible next level to try for as the athlete matures.

    *In aerobic sports, you can inadvertently train far harder than your peers through extensive multi-sport involvement-- that is, if many of the sports you're in have a strong aerobic dimension. This is why we need to be cautious with our "multi-sport" message. A kid can be doing too much in a number of different sports combined, or just the right amount in only one. And the best approach, from a number of different perspectives, is just to be active at unstructured play, like the great Kiwis in the article above.

    This post was edited by Oldster 4 months ago . 
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  • meizner User since:
    Oct 8th, 2013
    Posts: 798
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    Meizner said 4 months ago

    I have witnessed this first hand. Well meaning parents taking the mantle of 'multisport' to mean multiple simultaneous competitive sports (e.g. comp hockey and downhill skiing in the same seasons). This is in theory even more destructive than the year round single sport focus.

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  • anonymous Anonymous
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    Andrew Jones said 4 months ago

    Really valuable insight from Steve B, and the scenario he describes within his own house is fascinating.

    I find his implication of changing OFSAA (or any other Provincial/Territorial HS championship) to be open (where there are no subdivisions by age) really interesting. If Steve's son had not immediately "won", would he have valued the struggle and challenge more (as he would have likely been motivated to move up in placing each year), and would he, consequently, still be in the sport.? Who knows, but it definitely begs the question. I think this is worth a 10-year test run by a PSO.

    Regarding other comments in the thread, perhaps I'm oversimplifying things, but it seems to me that sports administrators using the epithets "competitive", "elite", "select", etc. are part of the problem. As soon as one labels a sport or activity as such, it seems to bring out cultural rules, strictures, and even a tribalism (especially in hockey in Canada) that seems to render concurrent sports and activities as opposing forces -- and not a healthy, complementary thing that is good for the child/youth in general (see both the body and mind).

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  • anonymous Anonymous
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    Report    REPLY #55 

    Anonymous said 4 months ago

    Quoting: Oldster
    "Training to win at the early age group level (early youth or younger) is a very risky proposition in this sport. Winning something relatively big at an early age without particularly trying can also become more of a burden than an advantage in the development process.

    I actually had something of a natural experiment in this regard (albeit with a very small sample size) unfold right in my own home a few years ago.

    Two siblings, female and male, are exposed to the sport in exactly the same way a few years apart (primary school xc and track-- no club involvement and no year-round training). They obviously have very similar genetics and exactly the same home life, but one wins almost everything he races, including midget OFSAA XC on extremely minimal training and no other sport involvement. The other doesn't even make OFSAA in grade 9 XC (but does in track, finishing 7th in the 800m). The first more or less quits after winning OFSAA (but with very little insight at the time into why he no longer wanted to compete), while the other continues, becoming more and more serious as the years go by. The first makes a brief return to the sport in his late teens and again runs very well, but does not win. The second does not win anything at all meaningful (best OFSAA finish remained 7th), but suddenly takes off as a junior, making two national teams and earning a full NCAA ride, where she became a second team All-American and 3x conference champion (in a strong conference--ACC).

    When asked to reflect on it all now, a few years on, the first said he felt immediate pressure from the attention of having won OFSAA in grade 9, before he really had chance to figure out if he actually liked training and racing (he didn't, ultimately). He wonders if things might have been different had he had a more normal intro to the sport (say, if OFSAA had had no age groups, and he'd finished much further back, against older runners). The second said she loved the sport from day one, and felt no pressure to achieve at any particular level, just a keen desire to get better and eventually perhaps win something meaningful.

    Kids clearly handle winning at early ages differently; but, I've learned as both a parent and a coach that it is usually more trouble than it's worth. When a kid does win a lot early (e.g. a Brogan M.) without doing a ton of training, you of course learn to deal with it as a coach; but, to actively try to make it happen (by, e.g., having kids out-train their peers*) is definitely inviting trouble, both in terms of a kid's quality of life and long term athletic development. A nice, gradual development process is best, if it can be engineered. A kid who could be winning early won't miss anything if he/she doesn't know it, and then there is always a sensible next level to try for as the athlete matures.

    *In aerobic sports, you can inadvertently train far harder than your peers through extensive multi-sport involvement-- that is, if many of the sports you're in have a strong aerobic dimension. This is why we need to be cautious with our "multi-sport" message. A kid can be doing too much in a number of different sports combined, or just the right amount in only one. And the best approach, from a number of different perspectives, is just to be active at unstructured play, like the great Kiwis in the article above."


    Our local club has the kids (of all ages) playing and socializing/enjoying themselves at every practice, even though there is the option of 3x a week. They play tag, manhunt, frisbee, kick around a soccer ball all the time. They can also sit out or not complete any workouts they don't feel up to doing, and can always choose to do core or stretches instead of "just running". Not everyone does XC, indoor track and outdoor track, depending on their preferences. There is no pressure from teammates or coaches.

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  • powerboy User since:
    Dec 11th, 2014
    Posts: 235
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    Report    REPLY #56 

    powerboy said 4 months ago

    Good comments all. I have also had the experience of coaching midget champions that despite my best efforts to dampen expectations and try to have them see the long view, they were overwhelmed with their lack of "success" going forward.

    And ironically, this is talking about grade 9 athletes. This thread is based on kids much younger, which I do find self defeating and self-fulfilling prophecies.

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  • new-post-last-visitkantrun User since:
    Oct 24th, 2017
    Posts: 36
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    Report    REPLY #57 

    KantRun said 4 months ago

    I've found that kids who have the right attitude and drive usually have parents that support them but also keep them tethered to the ground with honest facts. Parents filling their kids full of hot air just leads to problems in sport and also potentially their career later.

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