Sports at Imhoff

Here are a few takeaways from the recent School Sport Summit hosted by the Sport Science Institute of SouthAfrica:

Youth sports parents and coaches need to focus less on winning and more on sports as a vehicle to build teamwork and leadership abilities, improve sports skills, enhance fitness, promote healthy lifestyles, gain experiences that teach lifetime lessons and shape values, develop friendships – some for a lifetime – and have fun (surveys show kids want this the most from sports participation).

At Imhoff our sports programme introduces children to a variety of sports and movement skills. Our biggest challenge is the difference in physical and emotional ability within our groups and the fact that groups are small in number.

Our class 3, 4 and 5 players are in a developmental stage where coaches are introducing skills and values in a structured, fun environment where results shouldn’t matter. This process has been shown to work as most of our class 6 and 7 players, who have been on the same path since class 3, are now at a creative, skilled, structured level of play, and most of them show competent teamwork and respectful attitudes on match days.

Earlier versus later maturation

Some children are early bloomers who enjoy success in sports because they develop faster, not because they have more raw athletic talent.  Some children – even if they appear to only be average athletes or lag behind their peers – may be late bloomers whose athletic talent will only become apparent later when they are teenagers; they may ultimately be more gifted athletes.

The unfortunate fact is that, in a society and youth sports culture that places such a heavy emphasis on winning, an early bloomer enjoys advantages that may continue long after peers have caught up and, in many cases, passed them in terms of skill proficiency.  As a result, a late bloomer will be at a significant disadvantage in getting the attention of coaches and the playing time he/she needs to develop their skills, and may get so frustrated that quitting the sport becomes the only viable option.

Downsides to being early bloomer

If your child experiences early success in sports, such success also has some downsides.

An early bloomer:

  • is often able to exploit his or her physical ability without having to work as hard at developing skills as less mature players in order to stay competitive. When the others catch up physically, they may end up being better players because they have been forced to develop their skills while they grow into their bodies.
  • often has to try to live up to heightened expectations. This may lead them to practice and play more (on multiple teams during the same season, for instance) than their young bodies can handle in order to live up to their reputation. Playing under this kind of pressure often leads to burnout and all that extra wear and tear on bodies can lead to overuse injuries.
  • may define themselves by whether they win or lose. If he or she is unable to maintain the success they had early in their athletic career – if that self-image is shattered – the results can be disastrous and may lead them to quit sports altogether.
  • may tempt their parents to push them to specialise too early and/or train too hard. Excessive training too often leads to burnoutand/or overuse injuries, some of which don’t show up until high school, or can even be traced back to excessive training when the player was nine, ten or eleven. Parents need to avoid being lulled into valuing short-term success more than their child’s long-term future. They may be placing their child’s physical safety and emotional health at risk.

Parenting late bloomers: Emphasise skills development

If your child is an average athlete or lags behind their peers, he/she may be a late bloomer. Late bloomers receive markedly less social support and reinforcement from parents, coaches, and peers. Worse, their athletic career could be halted by coaches and parents concluding that he or she lacks the potential to play sports at the highest competitive levels. By not giving the late bloomer the chance to play on the team and develop at their own pace, they could drop out of sports rather than keep playing until they blossom (that is, achieve full athletic potential).

Here are six important lessons for parents of potential late bloomers:

  1. Take a balanced approach. Do not to get too down if your child is not immediately a superstar (or too high if they are!) The important thing is that he/she continues to play, to develop and learn new skills.
  2. Emphasise the process and the journey, not the results achieved.
  3. Avoid praising the outcome and instead praise effort.
  4. Help your child see herself as a whole person, not just as an athlete.
  5. Be realistic about possible reasons for early athletic success. Make sure your child understands that early success is not a guarantee of future success (and vice versa).
  6. Play on teams that recognise participation rather than winning at all costs, and that promote teamwork and respect.

Helen Davies, Sport Coordinator