I recently saw this chart of the players on the Ohio States football team that won the National Championship this year. I thought it was fascinating to see that 42 out of 47 players played multiple sports in high school. In fact in an article interviewing Urban Meyers, he said he prefers multi sport athletes. Obviously, he’s had some pretty good success in his coaching career.
Youth athletics can be a polarizing subject. I get it, I have kids. I want my son and daughter to win and be great at everything they try. I also realize that they won’t win everything or be great at everything. As parents, it’s our job to set our kids up to be good at whatever sports they try to be competitive in later on in life. Let’s be real, just because your kid is the t-ball champion doesn’t mean he’s going to be playing for the Braves. If you put him on the course to only play baseball from the time he’s 6 until he’s in college, it’s likely he’ll get burned out on baseball and have significant trouble with overuse injuries.
There are a few key areas we need to try to develop for our kids to help them be well rounded. If they choose to eventually focus on a specific sport, they should have a great foundation to do so with skill development in these areas.
1. Learn How To Fall
This may be the most under emphasized skill in youth sports. We all want our kids to be the fastest, tallest, strongest or most skilled. What we forget sometimes is that the best athletes are the ones that are the best at fundamentals. One of the most important fundamental skills is learning how to fall. If you know how to fall, you will be hurt less. If you’re hurt less you can practice more. If you can practice more you will get better.
I never had anyone teach me how to fall until I joined the Army. While in the Army I had the opportunity to go through the first level of both the Army and Marines combatives system. One of the first things we learned was rolling drills in the Army. This is heavily drawn from wrestling and jiu jitsu. The Marines system went one step further and taught many of the fundamental skills from judo. Learning how to fall correctly is a skill. I learned this the hard way being hip tossed repeatedly in practice. It can be a trial by fire sometimes. If you land wrong, it really hurts. If you land correctly, it doesn’t hurt. That’s some good incentive to learn how to fall correctly. Get your kids involved in some type of martial arts early. They will learn valuable body control skills and decrease their likelihood of injury in the future. My personal preference would be judo due to the emphasis on balance, hip control/strength and learning how to land correctly.
2. Learn How To Control Your Body
I love watching my kids develop in a number of ways. Seeing their speech, behavioral and reasoning skills improve is a daily occurrence. Watching my kids go from crawling to walking to now running is amazing. One thing you will notice about young kids however is that they all gain gross pattern skills like squatting naturally. The more advanced body control skills have to be developed through practice. One of my favorite sports to recommend parents get their kids involved in is gymnastics.
I recommend gymnastics for a number of reasons.
First, it’s one of the best ways to help your children develop body control. There is no external load and until your kids learn how to control their own body movement, there is no reason to add weight.
Second, it gets your kids inverted. This is great and undervalued skill. For those of you that started CrossFit as an adult, you will know first hand how difficult it can be to learn a handstand. I’ve seen 6 year old kids that go to gymnastics twice a week hold handstands longer than I ever have. Not only that, it’s a great way of developing and maintaining shoulder/thoracic mobility. This is great to offset the amount of time most of our kids end up sitting at school.
Third, it’s tiring. For those of you that are parents you’ll appreciate this one. A tired kid is a good kid!
3. Learn How To Be On A Team
This is an area where we can use a sport to help our kids with life skills. Learning how to fall is important from an injury prevention standpoint but I think is much more important to learn how to communicate with others. If you’re on a team, it’s no longer all about you. You have to run plays, help each other out and work together for a common goal.
My preference is to recommend parents get their kids involved in a sport that emphasizes lower extremity skill and one that emphasizes upper extremity skill. Two great examples of this would be soccer and baseball. They both do a great job of developing rotational power/coordination. Soccer also develops tons of lower body coordination and aerobic training. Baseball develops high quality hand eye coordination.
Get your kids on a team and have them learn how to work with others. It will be nothing but positive for them as they get older.
The recommendations in this post are a great way to help your kids develop an athletic base for any sport they may choose to seriously pursue in the future. They are by no means the only ways to develop baseline athleticism. I’m sure I have colleagues that may disagree with me on some of these points. Here’s something we should all agree on. Sports are a great way to learn body/movement skills and life lessons. They should also be fun. Your kids need to have fun and should be exposed to a number of different sports. They need to make mistakes, they need to lose, they need to win and they need to understand that no matter what it’s just a game and we support them.
Thanks for reading. Leave us a comment on what sports/aspects of sports you think are important for kids to develop.
Dr. Danny and Dr. Jackie's views on performance improvement, injury prevention and sometimes other random thoughts.