How Young Should A Child Start To Specialize In A Sport?

It is a fact that the age at which a young person reaches their peak in sport, is getting lower. This again does depend greatly on the particular sport involved as some sports such as swimming and tennis; the youngster participating certainly is quite young.However, that being said, in an analysis of tennis players in recent years showed the average age of boys and girls to be higher than would have been expected. Boys were in the region of 24 and girls 22.If we look at men’s tennis in particular, we have a number of up and coming good players in the 20 – 24 age group – but the number one in both ladies and men’s is higher than the average.What constitutes specializing in any sport? To become an elite person in any sport takes 10,000 hours of training and practice, this constitutes 3 hours per day for 10 years, therefore, if we are looking at someone achieving success at 24, they would have to be training and practicing since they were 14 or younger.They bodies running sport want the juniors to be competing fairly regularly by the time they reach 10 years old and this pre-supposes they started playing the sport at 6 – 7 years old. They say that at 10, if a child is going to make it in the sport, they should be playing at least 3 times a week!Important aspect to consider:1/. A good sports basis is to include cross training, such as basketball for a tennis player.2/. School work should mot be jeopardized.3/. A child body is developing continuously throughout their pre-teens and in the early teens, so they should not do weight training, a little is O.K. if properly supervised.4/. Correct, balanced training taking into account both side of the body.BUT – the most important point in all of this is what the child wants to do and not what the parent or coach wants the child to accomplish. Fair enough, there has to be a slight area of challenge from the coach and a good coach will know how to do this in the player’s best interest.At the end of the day, we will find the odd child who from an early age will be dedicated and completely focused on the sport of their choice. This is however, a rarity and unfortunately they won’t necessarily get to the top of their chosen sport.It is interesting to note here, that Tim Henman was not the best of the squad when he was young, but went on to surpass all of the others in his group.In the U.K. there is a great deal of competition amongst all of the sports to get hold of the best juniors, and it is generally found that someone who is good at one sport is also good at a number of other sports. The junior will ultimately choose the path that suits them. What we do find in this scenario, is that an out standing player will suddenly appear on the scene and will be a world-beater viz Seb Coe, Ian Black, etc.So at the end of the day – it is up to the child as to when they want to start specializing, the coach can only advise them.

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