On Moderation (Kids in Athletics)

If I were to propose to you that my nine year old train for a marathon, there would no doubt be some objections. Medically inclined people would talk about joint stress, growth plates, etc. And they'd be right.

Another group would complain about the fact that training for a marathon takes time. A fair amount of time. Time that a nine year old can spend on other things. Like school work. Or playing in the back yard. Or - heck - even playing a video game or two. These are the people I want to vehemently agree with today as it's come to my attention that my kids currently spend about as much time swimming in a given month as I spend during many of my months of marathon training.

Some notes:
1) The kids are actually supposed to be going to more practices than we send them to. This is the amount that we've cut back to.
2) We've also cut back the number of meets we're going to as well.
3) Our kids swim for the local Y team. We chose this program last year because it was less intense than the others. Last year, the kids loved it.
4) This year, the Y team hired a coach with a long history of intense successful coaching, assuming you define success as winning. I, on the other hand, define successful coaching of nine year olds as doing it in such a way that they don't burn out prior to high school.
5) Take this week for instance. The kids practiced last night. They have a meet on Saturday and another meet on Sunday. This coach scheduled a mandatory meeting tonight. This is typical and expected this year (though our kids won't go).
6) The kids are really not into it this season. Now while it's true that kids change, it's also true that they are of different sexes in different age groups, which causes me to think that while kids do change, a big change has been the environment of the swim team this year - more practice, more time, more intense practice.

Honestly, I'm not sure what to make about all of this... on one hand, I obviously value athletics, both for what they teach the body and what they teach the mind. But on the other hand, I wonder if a 9 year old (or even my 11 year old) should be investing the same time each month required to complete a marathon.

I'm also annoyed by all of the parents whom define success as "winning." If I needed to win to continue running, I would've quit long ago. What I want is for my kids to love the sport for the sport - win or lose, so they do it today and tomorrow. I'm seeing less and less of this today and my wife and I are coming to the realization that what we value in athletics is becoming harder to find in organized programs.

My wife brought home a flyer from the Y last night about a program that "introduces" 2-5 year olds to Track and Field. I say if you want to introduce a 3 year old to "track", race them around the house and if you want to introduce them to "field", take 'em in the back yard.


  1. I'm with you 100% on this, Marcus.
    I don't know how it happened that so many parents and coaches forgot that kids are supposed to have *fun*, they are supposed to be *playing*.
    Another of my pet peeves, and I'm sure you're aware of this with the amount of time your kids are investing in swimming, is that coaches and parents want young children to specialize.
    They will tell you that for your child to become really good at one thing, they have to sacrifice other things. There is some truth to that, but as a parent, you just have to let them go and get obsessed about what turns them on.
    Out in the real world, most of the really smart people have a broad education and broad interests, and most of the really great athletes are good at many sports.
    Joe Montana was offered a basketball scholarship. Michael Jordan is no slouch as a baseball player or golfer. Several professional athletes have gone pro in both football and baseball, and many more had to choose in college or after.
    But people, COACHES, will tell you that grade school kids have to specialize.
    Sorry I got off on a rant there.

  2. It's a rant I can whole-heartedly relate to. I'm currently reading THE PERFECT MILE and I wasn't aware (until now) how much Roger Bannister believed it was important to do other things besides run.... should be required reading for all coaches (and many parents).

  3. I dated a girl in college that was a part of one of these "elite" swim programs. They practiced till they fell over and it sounded kinda like some kinda boot camp. It actually produced a couple Olympic caliber swimmers and that reinforced the methods and the lunatic parents (to hear her tell it was crazy).

    Anyhow, it produced an above average swimmer that never wanted to do it. She swam in college for fun, but refused to "train". She had the competitive beat out of her. I wholeheartedly agree with your approach Marcus.

  4. roger bannister was the ultimate sportsman.
    i agree with you on the flyers for track and field..funny point but right on the money.
    have a good 08

  5. Anonymous6:54 AM

    yeah, i could barely complete 3.1 miles... it would take at least 3 YEARS worth of training to run a marathon :)
    From: Allie


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