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Baby Goes Pro

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NBC News Transcripts

SHOW: Today 7:00 AM EST NBC

December 29, 2010 Wednesday

HEADLINE: Today's Family; Brooke De Lench of MomsTeam.com discusses how young is too young for kids to train in sports


LESTER HOLT, co-host:

And we're back at 8:09. This morning on TODAY'S FAMILY, athletics and kids. Many parents can't wait to have their children join their first sports team, but how young is too young to start them down the athletic path?

Ms. DOREEN BOLHUIS: And you're crossing the midline of the body.

HOLT: At just 11 weeks old, Elena is already learning to train like an athlete, but on a much smaller scale.

Ms. BOLHUIS: Let's learn to twist. Whoa, look at that. Very big girl.

Teaching sports skills to babies sounds crazy to people who don't understand it, but it's not.

Would you like to go upside down again?

HOLT: Doreen Bolhuis has been working with children for 30 years and believes when it comes to sports training, the younger the better. Bolhuis says many kids in her program are learning the physical building blocks before they're even walking from gaining balance to batting a racket.

Ms. BOLHUIS: These are skills that children need to engage in sports. Our goal is to develop positive emotional connections to physical movement.

Ms. TERESA VANCE (Toddler Son Enrolled in Gymco Program): I think the skills that he's learning at this age will go with him throughout his entire life. Whatever sports he wants to play, he'll have that base.

HOLT: All over the country, parents are getting their children in the game early with programs like Little Kickers teaching soccer skills nationwide to kids as young as 18 months old. DVDs have hit the baby market, too, former tennis pro and mother Gigi Fernandez developed "Baby Goes Pro," a video that teaches sport-specific moves to toddlers.

Ms. GIGI FERNANDEZ: It's really trying to give them confidence in the sports that they want to do later on in life. You got to start somewhere and the earlier you start, the better--the better it is.

HOLT: But some parents are comfortable with their babies sitting on the sidelines for now.

Ms. PATRICIA MACLEAN (Toddler Son Not Enrolled In a Program): It doesn't need to be a really structured activity at this age. If Nicky wants to play with us in the living room or outside or in the playground with friends, then that's enough for us.

Mr. BOB BIGELOW: Younger, younger, younger never means better, better, better.

HOLT: Bob Bigelow, former NBA player and national speaker on the topic of youth sports, believes that early sports training for kids does not mean a competitive edge later on.

Mr. BIGELOW: If you're thinking that this is a head start, beating some other kid out of the starting blocks, to an athletic career, be very careful, you're going down the wrong road.

HOLT: Future pro athlete? Maybe. But for most parents it is definitely not the goal.

Unidentified Man: We--we'd appreciate scholarships some day, but that's not why we're here.

HOLT: Brooke De Lench is a youth sports parenting expert and editor-in-chief of MomsTeam.com.

Good morning to you. Thanks for coming on.

Ms. BROOKE DE LENCH (Editor-in-Chief, MomsTeam.com): Good morning. Thanks for having me.

HOLT: We heard two sides of the argument, that earlier is better and earlier is not better in this case. Is there any evidence that kids get a--at least a medical--mental or physical advantage athletically if they do this early?

Ms. DE LENCH: There's absolutely no evidence, there are no studies that show that the kids get an edge, there have been no good reports that really show they have an edge. There have been many studies that show that it could work to a disadvantage.

HOLT: What would the disadvantages be, though? I mean, it's obviously good for kids to get physical activity in an era of high obesity.

Ms. DE LENCH: It's great for them to be out there. And they're so cute, you know, you have to just love them. But what happens is that they can have some negative experiences that will imprint them--excuse me--for a very long time.

HOLT: Does this have to do with the parental expectation here? Again, these programs aren't being marketing, they're not saying, `Do this and your--and your kid'll be an all-star baseball player some day,' but do parents perhaps start thinking that?

Ms. DE LENCH: Yes, they do. Many parents do feel that they're going to have an edge, but a child has their own developmental little blueprint, they're going to develop at their own time--on their own time line. So it is so important to let them develop, let them have a lot of free play.

HOLT: But if you do want to get them involved in an organized thing, I know you brought some advice, the first thing you said is visit and observe classes with your child. What should I be looking for?

Ms. DE LENCH: Well, look and make sure that the kids are moving the whole time, if they're lined up waiting to take a turn to do something, you know that they're not getting the activity, and that's frustrating for a little child.

HOLT: And you're also concerned that--the red danger flag would be anyone who's saying this will help your child become a pro athlete.

Ms. DE LENCH: Oh, yes, that's absolutely a red flag. If they're promising that your child is going to be a pro or promising that this is really what they need to have the edge, no, that is just not true.

HOLT: You're also big on having fun, and this gets back--I mean, this is where I start sounding like an old fuddy duddy, but I remember free play.

Ms. DE LENCH: Oh, yeah.

HOLT: I remember you left the house and you went out and you played and you didn't need all these organized activities. Where's the--where's the middle ground here?

Ms. DE LENCH: Critical, absolutely critical for child development for kids to have fun and free play, they don't need adults telling them what the rules are. They don't want to hear an adult say, `Oh, don't put your hands on a soccer ball' or `Don't kick the basketball,' that will turn them off to sports.

HOLT: So go--so go easy on the rules at least at this very early age.

Ms. DE LENCH: No rules, no expectations, no pressure, fun.

HOLT: Kids have a lot more pressure in their life anyway these days...

Ms. DE LENCH: Yes.

HOLT: ...academically and in all the classes. So as parents go and look for these different classes, what's a general thing to keep in mind?

Ms. DE LENCH: Well, not only are the kids having the pressure, but the parents have a tremendous amount of pressure put on them to make sure that if their kids are not in these programs, that their kids won't make it up the rung--up the ladder. So what they have to look for are people who might have an early childhood education major, not a coach, someone who knows what children need at this stage. That is so important.

HOLT: And as a parent, you've got triplets, you know that...

Ms. DE LENCH: Yes.

HOLT: ...ultimately kids are going to do what they want to do.

Ms. DE LENCH: You bet. And when you see three fraternal boys growing up at different rates you quickly learn that kids really do develop on their own time line.

HOLT: All right. Brooke de Lench, great having you on.

Ms. DE LENCH: Thank you.

HOLT: Thanks so much.