As we move forward through the age groups of the competitive athlete, there often comes a moment with kids, and particularly their parents, as to when to begin specializing in one sport. Before we move ahead, let’s reacquaint ourselves with the ladder of athletic evolution:
1) ACTIVE START (ages 0-6): Getting a child to be active a minimum of 60 minutes per day, ideally three hours per day. Over 80% of children get enough.
2) FUNDAMENTALS (ages 6-8): Learning fundamental movements (balance/stability, locomotion and object manipulation) through simple play time. Again, a minimum of 60 minutes per day, ideally three hours per day. Less than 10% of children get enough.
3) LEARN A SPORT (ages 8-11): Learn fundamental movements and skills of multiple sports. Somewhat formal instruction but not too much.
4) INTRODUCTION TO COMPETITION (males/11-14, females/11-13): A crucial time to compete in usually two sports of the child’s preference. The child’s preference is important, because learning is improved vastly through play and enjoyment. Developing competitive experience takes priority over winning and results during this phase.
5) LEARN TO COMPETE (males/14-17, females/13-16): The phase where a child is now considered an athlete. Detailed annual planning is put in place along with performance benchmarks as a way of measuring against peers. Mental resiliency is developed regarding successes and failures; some specialized training is put in place, while participation in other activities (sports) is continued in order to achieve the necessary physical attributes of a well-rounded, complete athlete.
6) TRAIN TO COMPETE (males/17-22, females/16-19): Specialization phase: It is now recommended that young athletes begin training year-round in their sport of choice and highest aptitude. Benchmarks, high percentage of psychological aspects including expectations, tactics, training specificity, etc., are all implemented.
7) COMPETE TO WIN or TO LIVE (males/22+, females/19+): The phase where an athlete makes a living competing. This is the top of the pyramid in terms of a young athlete’s development.
It is clear girls in general mature both physically and mentally earlier than boys and is portrayed within the international LTAD (Long-Term Athlete Development) or LTPD (Long-Term Player Develop) guide. The above phases of development are considered a roadmap for not only coaches, but for parents and an athlete’s support group (specialized trainers, psychologists, etc.). As mentioned in Part 1, there are sports such as gymnastics, diving, swimming, and figure skating (balance and locomotion sports), where children advance through the phases much earlier, and in some cases don’t effectively touch all three fundamental movement categories as required in Phase 2, “Fundamentals” (specifically, “object manipulation”), due to the fact they specialize very early in body-control sports. In these sports, object manipulation in the form of throwing, dribbling, hitting an object with your hand or an implement, in most cases, is not necessary.
In golf, we need balance and stability, we need locomotion in order to develop various muscle groups used during the golf swing, and we need hand-eye coordination. For any coaches working with up-and-coming talented golfers, it is imperative these phases of development are followed to the tee (pun intended). Please show and explain this to parents who want their child to specialize in golf at an early age. Children need to play golf as a means to learn and play well. Bottom line – kids need to play and play more than one sport…period! Specialization in golf comes at a much later age in spite of the fact there are exceptions such as Lydia Ko.
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