Edmonds Fitness Corner: For young athletes, play more important than competition

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Pritam Potts
Pritam Potts

Remember lying on the carpet with your infant? How innocent was that? More so than you know! The endless crawling and chasing on all fours allowed us to play at our child’s level of development. Their development depended upon a supply of endless wonder and new stimuli. As they grew and eventually walked, we chased them even more, playing hide and seek, throwing Nerf balls at endless targets, hiding, ducking dodging, until we were exhausted. Do you remember how fast the development occurred? On a daily basis to be exact, and it was fun. But the fun part was that it changed every day for the infant, because what they accomplished the day before was yesterday’s news, and today was a whole new ballgame.

Youth play and development is not that much different, or at least it shouldn’t be. It should be steeped in newness, excitement, playful challenges and most importantly not shadowed by keeping “score” of any kind. In fact I am not in favor of youth sports keeping actual score until around age 11. And even at that point, the score should not be used as an acknowledgement of how good one is but merely the point at which the natural competitive juices start to flow and keeping score is a release of those urges.

Keeping score and recording wins and losses too early in life, polarizes children against one another and self-creates unhealthy rivalries. It does not allow the young athlete to be focused on the joy of his or her development rather the development of hatred, anger or resentment of other children based on the fact that they merely play for a “different team”. This is really sticky ground, and not the time to inject our Adult frustrations into a place where they can only do harm. There is …….time, trust me, for all this!

Families should be body surfing on Maui, hiking in Bryce Canyon, canoeing on a quiet lake instead of worrying about which team(s) their kid will end up on next. You see, the hiking, the surfing, the canoeing, are part of that all important early play, and the necessary job of the parent to be able to differentiate between the two.

Let me share a little story. When my daughter was 13 she was on one of the best Select Soccer Teams in Washington State. In fact there was only one other team that was as good. Well, in January of that year we planned a trip to Maui with the kids, our first as a family. After tryouts for the next year’s team (which she made) we received notice that they would be entering a tournament in San Diego called the Surf Cup (very big). Very few teams are invited to attend, and it is considered an honor. Well, after receiving the notice I promptly informed the coach of our plans to go to Maui. The dates were exactly the same time. His response, “Well this could affect her playing time during the summer tournament season.” My response, “Well you’ve got to do what you’ve got to do, but we’re going to Maui”.

Guess what? She played all summer long (tore it up) and when it came to go to Maui, the team even offered to fly her from Maui to San Diego half way through the trip so as to not miss the tournament. Response…”NO”! Hmm, she went on to be the leading scorer in her High School’s history, playing State and regional ODP and playing in college. She now coaches at the Select and High School level.

The point is, that there will be time for everything, and that the time we had on the surf board, and playing football on the beach, went a long way towards the ultimate development of that little athlete.

The rest of her teammates at that time probably can’t remember how many games they won in that tournament, but Amanda has not forgot one moment of that first Hawaiian vacation.

This article was written by Dan Potts, late husband of Pritam Potts, owner of Advanced Athlete LLC. Pritam Potts is a NSCA-certified trainer and strength coach with 14+ years of experience working with athletes and clients of all ages. Her specialty is in functional strength applications, developing core and overall strength and coordination specifically for the purpose of enhancing the body’s ability to function optimally and safely in athletic movement. You can contact her online at www.facebook.com/mrsathlete and www.twitter.com/mrsathlete.

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