Venus Williams was practicing her backhand before she started kindergarten. Tiger Woods showed off his putting skills on the evening news at age 2.
But for every prodigy who grows into a successful athlete, thousands of youths suffer physically or psychologically from being pushed to compete at a young age. For that reason, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends children avoid specializing in a sport until they reach adolescence.
The repetitive motions often demanded by intense training in a single sport can cause overuse injuries, such as stress fractures or tendonitis. Overtraining also can contribute to psychological damage, including depression.
Here are ideas for parents:
Keep it fun.
Check your attitude. The AAP identifies parental pressure as one of the factors that results in overtraining among children and adolescents.
Don't let your child play when he or she is injured or feeling pain.
Make sure your child is learning skills, not focusing on competition.
Track your child's growth. Is he or she getting taller? Putting on weight?
Offer your child a variety of physical activities until at least age 12 or 13. You can find national exercise guidelines and activity examples for children and adolescents at the CDC website.
Remember that the goal of sports for children and adolescents is to instill a lifelong love of activity and fitness. Do your best to help your children find sports that they enjoy--and remember the sports they enjoy may not be the same ones you want them to enjoy!