Your kids don’t need to start sports early to have a chance at success later on

By Janis Meredith | Posted 10/19/2016

The belief that you must start your child early in sports in order for him to have success later on is a myth. I’ve researched and discovered information that busts that myth clean out of the water. Here’s what I’ve learned.

Be wary of preschool sports

I didn’t say don’t do them, I said be careful. Be picky. Do your homework before you automatically sign them up at 3 for the pee-wee soccer league or the AAU basketball team.

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends waiting until age 6 before introducing team sports, saying that few kids understand the idea of teamwork until then. Instead, preschoolers should spend most of their time in free play — running, jumping, chasing.

However, no two kids grow at the same rate so don’t automatically rule out sports just because your child is in preschool. If you go this route, look for a team or league that is focused on fun.

Don’t be in a hurry to develop your child’s skills. Let him play and experience the fun of sports. The first step to developing an athlete is to instill in them the love of sport. You don’t have to do that in an organized experience.

Specialization does not guarantee success in sports

Brook DeLench from claims that children who specialize in a sport “account for 50 percent of overuse injuries in young athletes according to pediatric orthopedic specialists.”

She cites several studies that all come to the same conclusion: children who commit to one sport at a young age are often the first to quit and suffer a lifetime of consequences.

John O’Sullivan, author of Changing the Game Project adds some very eye-opening facts to this discussion:

Prior to age 12: 80 percent of time should be spent in deliberate play and in sports other than the chosen sport.

Age 13-15: 50/50 split between a chosen sport and other athletic pursuits

Age 16+: Even when specialization becomes very important, 20 percent of training time should still be in the non-specialized sport and deliberate play.

Your child doesn’t have to follow Tiger Woods’ example

Just because Tiger Woods started playing golf at the age of 2 doesn’t mean your child has to follow suit if he wants to succeed. Here’s an impressive list that proves my point:

Danny Kanell, former FSU quarterback and now an ESPN analyst didn’t start playing football until he was a junior in high school. My husband was one of his coaches.

Tim Duncan transitioned from swimming to playing basketball while in high school and ended up with 5 NBA titles.

Michael Oher, whose story was told in the movie “The Blind Side”, started playing football in high school. He’s still active in the NFL.

Soccer star Alex Morgan did not begin playing soccer until she was 13.

Dikembe Mutombo did not begin playing competitive basketball until he was a student at Georgetown University. He learned quickly and ended up becoming an eight-time NBA All-Star.

And here’s one that blows me away: Antonio Gates was signed by the San Diego Chargers in 2003 after not playing one snap of college football (he played basketball). He went on to make eight Pro Bowl appearances while in the NFL.

Each of these athletes played because they loved the game and were skilled athletes, not because their parents signed them up in preschool.

If you want your child to really be successful, focus instead of helping him develop a love for sports. And if that love continues to grow, it will be accompanied by motivation to improve and develop stronger skills.

Janis B. Meredith, sports mom and coach’s wife, writes a sports parenting blog called Her new book 11 Habits for Happy and Positive Sports Parents is on Amazon.