Earlier this week, I had the opportunity to talk to Lester Holt on NBC's Today Show about a subject I have been writing and talking about for the past decade - sports training for kids at earlier and earlier ages. It was fitting to end the year and the last week of MomsTeam's first decade speaking to the nation about the tremendous pressure parents are under to place their infants and toddlers in programs that promote giving young children an "edge" in the mad rush to grab a seat on the runaway bus of youth sports.
When the Today Show producer called, she told me she had read the second chapter of my book Home Team Advantage: The Critical Role of Youth Sports Parents titled: "Too Much Too Soon: Making Sure Your Child's Involvement In Sports Is Developmentally Appropriate" and felt it provided ideal background information for the segment. While the book is now four years old, the fact that the tentacles of the youth sports business machine were now reaching into the cribs of babies to provide new customers was not really news. What is surprising and new is the continued growth and proliferation of such programs even during a recession when money for so many families is so tight.
Since my segment aired I have heard from educators and child development experts and MomsTeam visitors (old and new) from around the nation, all applauding my stance and appreciating the research I have done (including the 31 publications listed in the bibliography for Chapter Two) to back up my assertion on the Today Show that "Children who are enrolled in sports programs while still toddlers and infants have no edge - no advantage over other children."
One of my favorite studies on youth sports development is one from 2006 published in the Journal of Physical Education, Recreation, and Dance. The study shows that only one out of four kids viewed as "superstars" at the age of 10, 11, and 12 year olds goes on to star in high school sports.
One only has to raise non-identical triplet boys, as I have done, to know that each child has their own developmental blueprint and develops at their own rate. To try to force a child to learn a sport long before they are ready is a fool's errand and a waste of money, in my view. For years, I have suggested to parents that they save their money in a summer camp fund for when the children are older. Perhaps, thirteen or fourteen, when they are developmentally and psychologically ready to start concentrating on a single sport.
In the meantime, a local high school baby sitter with an interest in sports who will play one-on-one with your child, in their own environment at their own pace may be the best investment of your money.
For a transcript of the Today Show segment, Baby Goes Pro, click here.
For the video of my interview by Lester, just named as the permanent host of the NBC Nightly News, click here.