Should your kids specialise in one sport or play many?

At Precision Physio we firmly believe that movement is the fountain of youth and paves the way for a longer, more enjoyable life. Hence, making sure our kids become active – and stay active – is really important to us.

Children benefit in many different ways when they are active from a young age:

  • Sleep
  • Appetite regulation
  • Bone strength
  • Immune health
  • Motor skills
  • Physical strength
  • Overall fitness

One of the best ways for children to achieve good activity levels is through playing sport! However, sport has its own list of controversial topics and this blog covers one of the most common.

Sport Specialisation – yes or no?

The past number of years has seen a steady increase in youth sport specialisation. Now, although, it may be the dream of any parent, coach or mentor to see their child soar in a given sport – there’s a question that must be asked.

Is allowing or pushing your child to specialise in one particular sport best for their performance, hopes and dreams? Or, is variety the best choice for the young athlete?

To answer this, we want to understand the nature of your child or adolescent sportsperson. The young athlete is unique in that they are constantly growing and developing. This growth occurs rapidly, at varying rates and occasionally it may do so unequally. Because of this, there are stages in development where a young athlete may be particularly susceptible to a variety of injuries. However, at any age, our bodies are incredibly diverse and adaptable. These characteristics are at their peak during childhood and adolescence – in many ways the body is like Play-Doh!

Thus, we come to the formula for creating a robust, less injury prone and higher performing young athlete.

Step one: regular exercise and activity

Step two: place a variety of demands on the body (these demands could include different movements, durations, movement speeds and playing environments).

This variety allows the young sportsperson to form a greater diversity of physical adaptations that better prepare their bodies for the tough demands of sporting activity. Whilst specialising in a given sport will provide a better opportunity to create a finely tuned skill set, the young developing body may at times find the very specific demands of a sport overwhelming which can lead to injuries. Additionally, a young athlete that is prepared through a variety of movement demands may indeed perform better as they grow older due to the robust nature of their body which has formed throughout development.

Now we come to a very important part of the discussion…

The formula so far may sound easy on paper; however, we understand that telling your child to pick up another sport or exercise more, can be very difficult. Which is why we come to the most important component.

Step three: enjoyment!

There are so many ways to incorporate movement and they don’t always have to be in a competitive form of activity or structured exercise. The word we want to emphasise here is MOVEMENT – it can come in many different shapes and sizes. It could include anything from dog walking, e-sports (the active varieties e.g. Wii sports), rock climbing, trampolining or hiking all the way through to the more organised forms of tennis, soccer, netball or cricket.

Step 3 is absolutely essential to being able to successfully follow Steps 1 and 2.

Finding things children and adolescents enjoy is the single most effective way to make them active and more physically resilient.

Finally, there’s an additional step to the formula we must add – and it involves you!

As a parent, you may indeed have the most significant influence on the amount of activity your child chooses to do and also, how much they enjoy it. Encouraging your child to join sporting teams, take up a racket, jump in the pool or pull on their running shoes is the first and easiest step. Doing these things with them or modelling your own initiative is incredibly powerful.

Finding activities you can do together, where the emphasis is on enjoyment and participation is often a sure-fire way to guarantee that both you and your child can increase your activity levels and spend more meaningful time together.

Perhaps even more importantly, this will improve your own health and possibly strengthen the bond you have with your kids!

If you would like some tips or to discuss this article further, please contact its author, and Precision Physio Exercise Physiologist, Liam Palmer: [email protected]

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