Should Children Specialise in a Sport?

You might have read the comments made by Dr Jean Cote during his visit to Singapore.  Dr Cote is a professor and director at Queen’s University’s School of Kinesiology and Health Studies, whose studies have shown that, to prevent burnout, it is better that children aged between six and 12 play four to eight sports, before choosing one to focus on in their early teens.

However in addition to burnout, there are many other benefits in exposing children to a wide range of sports.  A few of these are discussed below.

First of all, we don’t think that “four to eight sports” is prescriptive – the number of sports also depends on parents’ willingness to escort their children from place to place; the ease of access that a child has to sport; and balancing all other time commitments that parents and children have.

The programme at Shaws Little League exposes the children to twelve sports and no doubt that this will increase further as time goes on.  We have carefully selected these twelve sports as the skills involved in each are very transferable and associated across each of those sports.

How are they associated?  Nearly all sports involve skills such as balance, aerobic and anaerobic fitness, changing direction, pivoting, hand-eye co-ordination and power.  That is the starting point – it doesn’t matter which sport we want to learn, a development programme needs to encompass these skills.  There is an element of commanility between feet movement, the way our arms move and our follow through across all sports.  So surely, we should be teaching these things at a young age – or better still getting children to realise this by themselves.

If we look at the relationship between different sports and attempted to map them on a continuum (purely theoretical), it allows us to see the relationship between each sport. Note that there is no need to learn the sports in linear order.

Without offending anyone, and taking into account the difficulty in mastering sports skills and excelling at any sport, track athletics is by far the most simple of sports, in theory.  It doesn’t involve other objects, there is no confrontation between athletes – athletics involves a person racing against the clock (or themselves).

Next on the continuum would be team sports like soccer, rugby, volleyball, basketball, netball and ultimate frisbee – developing the concepts of team play and leadership, adding a foreign object (a ball or frisbee), aiming for a target and using only our bodies to control the object.

Then come sports that involve an implement to control the ball – hockey, golf, teeball, baseball, cricket and tennis.  Have you ever seen a child’s first attempt at striking a ball?  More often than not, a child will with either their hands together or apart make a pushing motion toward the ball.  Only after developing confidence will that child attempt to strike a stationary ball, before attempting to hit moving balls.  Therefore it is far to say that tennis is one of the most difficult sports to master.

In addition, you may have heard of the concept of cross-training – using a range of other activities to become more proficient in your chosen sport, eg elite tennis players pass a medicine ball to each other to develop their strength, in which the technique used is exactly the same as that involved in passing a rugby ball!

Ultimately though, the thing that underpins all the sports is the concept of fun – only when children are having fun, they are prepared to challenge themselves, invent new skills and try harder. Using clear, concise and simple instructions assists in children’s development and allows them more freedom to develop their own technique and fosters independent learning.

At Shaws Little League, we ensure that children have fun, learn a range of sports in one location and are kept actively engaged for the duration of each session.