The Republic Masthead

Parents, avoid 1-sport focus


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Did you miss me?

OK, for goodness sakes, I was only gone on vacation a week. In the steady stream of sports stories, it’s the blink of an eye.

Consider then, that many high school athletes take off one week a year from training for their specific sport, or less. A blink of an eye to let their bodies have some rest, or shut down their mind for a few days.

Everyone wants to be Tiger Woods or Andrew Luck or LeBron James. The only way to get there is to work, work, work.

Do we realize, though, that becoming a superstar athlete is a one-in-a-billion long shot?

The argument, of course, is that our current world offers a lot of other opportunities. The professional sports world is ever-expanding with its bottomless wallet, and don’t forget about all those college athletics scholarships.

It’s no wonder parents take their 8-year-old and make training for one sport a 24/7, 365-day-a-year proposition. Why waste time playing tennis and softball if your child is going to be the next Pelé?

Many child advocates and medical organizations have noticed and are concerned. Studies have shown children who specialize in one sport and train rigorously throughout the year are more susceptible to psychological issues, muscle imbalance and injury. The National Athletic Trainers Association reports that our kids are doing too much, and that cutting back will not only make our children better athletes, but will cut down on overuse injuries.

The NATA also notes specialization in sports might be associated with nutritional and sleep inadequacies, psychological and socialization issues and ultimately burnout. Studies also show that athletes who burn out at an early age tend not to be involved with athletics at all in later life.

The NATA recommends taking two to three months away from a specific sport each year.

And it’s not just one group. Just go online and take a look. The consensus is building that at least until high school, it’s paramount that children diversify their sporting interests. It’s even more important they take time out — much more than a week — to get away from athletic training.

So how do we get this done?

It’s obvious that the current answer is ... we don’t.

In the athletics big arms race, everyone is convinced the way to get ahead is to outwork the competition.

Say, for instance, you are Columbus East football coach Bob Gaddis, who has campaigned for kids to have more time in the summer to just be kids.

You want rules to support your feeling, but in the current landscape, everyone who is competitive is putting in the time. Are you going to let someone else outwork you? No way.

Making everything more difficult is the race for athletic scholarships is a national one. Could the Indiana High School Athletic Association, for instance, afford to completely ban its athletes from attending any kind of team-based events in the summer when other states are going full bore in the summer?

Despite evidence to the contrary, the prevailing thought is that the hardest workers who put in the most time get the scholarships. It would take a lot of courage for a state to buck the trend.

I guess that leaves it up to the parents to make a stand.

In July, kidnap your son or daughter when they are headed to the gym and lock them in a room with video games. Force them to go on that camping trip to Yellowstone. Play a marathon round of Monopoly. Go fishing.

Just get them to shut down for a brief period. If they are away from their sport for a week, or two, or three, no one is going to notice.

When they get back, they can ask the question.

Did you miss me?

They might be surprised by the answer.

Jay Heater is The Republic sports editor. He can be reached at jheater@therepublic.com or 379-5632.

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