Thursday, December 24, 2015

Column: Let kids play multiple sports

Former Kansas University basketball player Scot Pollard will compete in the upcoming season of the reality TV show "Survivor."

Former Kansas University basketball player Scot Pollard will compete in the upcoming season of the reality TV show "Survivor."


Note: Former KU/NBA forward Scot Pollard has agreed to offer his opinions to the Journal-World on various subjects from time to time. Here’s Pollard’s take on whether children should specialize in one sport or play many.

Obviously, there have been a lot of people much smarter than me and doctors in various fields of psychology and sports orthopedics who are documented as saying it’s unhealthy for kids to participate in one sport year-round.

The repetitive nature of one sport — say, pitching or volleyball spiking or basketball shooting on a growing body — is well documented that it just shouldn’t happen. No one should play baseball year-round. No child should play basketball year-round.

I think my dad was on to something when he said, “Don’t do that,” and wouldn’t allow us to do that. We (Scot and his brothers) were allowed to play one camp individually in the offseason and one team camp. Other than that, we could play pick-up games if we wanted to, but there was no travel.

Yes it was a different era that wasn’t as popular back then as it is now. Those type of things are simply money-makers in my opinion. The AAU coaches who do that for a living? They don’t really have another job. Not all of ’em but some of ’em. That’s all they do.

They take parents’ money. They give ’em promises of, “This is gonna get your kid to the next level.” Not taking into account the dangers of just the physical side of putting your kid in a travel situation. You are taking 7-, 8-year-olds all the way up to even 13-, 14-year-olds. Their bodies are growing. They are changing. Their hormones. They grow at different ages. Some spurt early. Some spurt late. You are pressuring these kids into year-round sports and forcing their bodies to do things they are not supposed to do. The repetitive nature of these training sessions or just even playing the game, whatever sport it is, are damaging children physically.

The psychological side of it on top of the physical side of children playing sports year-round is that you cannot function as a normal kid when you are sitting here going, “Oh I have training before school or after school four or five days a week.”

Then you’ve got homework. Then you’ve got normal kid stuff. All the while you are sitting here thinking in your head, your 7-, 8-, 9-, 10-, 11-, 13-, 14- whatever-year-old head, “I’m an elite athlete. I’m an elite athlete. Really nothing else matters besides this baseball game I’ve got coming up or baseball trainer I’ve got before and after school.” These thoughts distract you from being a normal kid full of successes and failures.

Playing playground games or interacting with other kids and even if it’s video games. I’m not a video game guy. Even if it’s video games, the psychological damage that is being done to children in the efforts of their parents to prove to themselves — not the children but the parents proving to themselves that their child is something special. That they’ve created somebody that is going to be the next LeBron James, Tiger Woods, etc. etc.

The fact of the matter is kids are just special or they are not special. The parents get caught up in this whether it’s because of some AAU coach or trainer or somebody that’s talking them into the travel schedule.

More often than not it’s the parents who are sitting there going, “Well, my kid is special.”

I just ran into a parent the other day. He was talking about his 8-year-old daughter. They were saying she needed to go on a trip to Spain to play in the World whatever-it’s-called soccer game in Spain as an 8-year-old. He was like, “I told ’em no because I’m not for it.” Meanwhile, he did admit she does play soccer year-round because she’s special. She’s got something the other kids don’t have.

That just means she’s running faster. It’s soccer. It’s 8-year-old soccer. She’s faster probably and she may be special someday. But right now isn’t the time to tell an 8-year-old they should be playing a sport year-round and ignoring school, ignoring other kids, ignoring the pitfalls of getting hurt on the playground at school or not being able to get your homework done because you are busy training at 8-years-old to go on some trip to Canada even, or to even an out of state, to travel out of state just to play a game at 7-, 8-, 9-years-old.

The psychological effect of this is a false sense of security for children because they think, “Oh my parents must be right because I believe in my parents. I’m on this travel team because I’m special.” And more often than not their parents have held them back and they have just matured a little bit faster.

Everybody knows at that age you just mature a little bit faster than other kids. Or you are held back and all of a sudden months mean the difference between somebody that’s a great player at that age in third, 4th, 5th grade and somebody that’s not that good.

Well, I was a late bloomer. I know a lot of guys that were late bloomers that were in the NBA that weren’t very good.

The oldest story of that, the most famous one, is Michael Jordan getting cut from his sophomore high school basketball team. Different people mature at different ages. And the psychological impact of a kid being told from age 7- or 8-years-old, “Oh you’re special. You’re on a travel team because you are so good.” Well, your parents held you back and your parents did other things to make you feel like you are an elite athlete at that age. It’s a psychological problem that will come back later as an adult and these kids will be damaged as adults because they are being told they are special from a young age, a tender age, where they should learn not everybody is good and maybe they are not that good. Instead they are being told they are great and they are set up for failure as adults because they turn out to be normal which is just fine. It’s OK for everybody and anybody to be normal because we are all normal.

As an addendum to this, Pollard wrote a few weeks after penning this piece: “Pro players nowadays are breaking down earlier than they used to. Are we going to see a trend of shorter careers because of these players training year round as kids? Derrick Rose for example. Body is breaking down as a result of overtraining during growth spurts?”

Here’s KU basketball coach Bill Self’s take on the subject as told to the Journal-World:

“I think kids should play all sports. I think when they get to be a junior (in high school) or something like that, maybe they should specialize, but I don’t see any reasons kids shouldn’t play multiple sports.

“Scot has probably done all the research on all the injuries of all the guys that have been hurt during his studies,” Self added with a laugh, “but I do agree with him. I think it’s more healthy to be part of different teams and play different sports. I guarantee you basketball definitely helps football players.

“There are people that say, ‘We love recruiting basketball guys that play football for toughness.’ Baseball or running track I think would be an unbelievable sport ... or playing soccer for any athlete to do to help them. I think there are positives with all of them. Sherron (Collins, basketball, football, baseball) turned out OK. He was pretty good at all of ’em.

“I think there’s pressure on kids to specialize,” Self added. “Parents may put it on some of them — the traveling teams or programs in different sports. If you are paying a lot of money for kids to play soccer and train them and do all that stuff ... I don’t know if you want to do that if they are spending half their time playing baseball at the same time soccer season is going on. I think it’s a good question but certainly one that shouldn’t be addressed until they get in high school. I think kids should play everything.”


Humpy Helsel 6 years, 4 months ago

Great story and great message for all parents. I had to coach my son's teams when he was young because of watching the parents and coaches of his early teams become whacked out over their kids, if they were playing or not, and watching how parents acted toward other teams and referees. I decided rather than just watch it and experience the helpless pain, I would coach, teaching fundamentals, fun, and sportsmanship. What a painful experience to observe parents act out their craziness through their kids and the delusion their kids are going to be the next superstar. I have long shared with my young staff in my profession that 90% of what I learned, I learned on the playing fields of varying team sports...teamwork, camaraderie, fairness, and how to be a gracious loser, which does happen in life. Thanks, Scot.

Joe Ross 6 years, 4 months ago

Sometimes, playing multiple sports helps develop skill areas across all of them. One can see, for example, how volleyball might help with blocking in basketball (especially timing). Soccer transfers skill sets too (footwork, endurance). Throwing lobs for alley oops in basketball may help a quarterback throw.

Who remembers Clint Normore?

Dirk Medema 6 years, 4 months ago

Clint was awesome, especially 2 plays from the NC game:

  1. Going up and stuffing Grant, or was that breaking up the deep pass over the middle.

  2. Throwing the ball round the perimeter while OU stuffed the paint sagging on Danny in particular, then hitting the 3 from the top of the key with 1 second on the shot clock.

Among my favorite plays of that game if not all time.

Suzi Marshall 6 years, 4 months ago

Every-time I read stories like this, I can't help but thinking there is a great over generalization. I had two kids that excelled in sports. The travel to strange area and the relationships built are cherished by nearly everyone.

Sure there are a few bad apples that garner all the headlines but the vast majority are enjoying the competition and competing with their friends. The hard part the parents part is in part the financial burden but mostly missing the friends acquired who were associated with their kids sports.

Benz Junque 6 years, 4 months ago

A very athletic kid can easily play multiple sports because they don't need to put a load of time into a sport to be good at it.

Your average kid isn't athletic enough to be able to perform at an above average level without spending a lot more time practicing, going to camps, etc...

John Randall 6 years, 4 months ago

What a shame for average kids to grow up thinking they are average, and gaining that advantage over the ones who are pushed to excel so they aren't able to live normal (average) lives as adolescents and adults.

Kent Richardson 6 years, 4 months ago

Excellence in sports is achieved by less than .001 of the participants. This could also be counting all the ones who think they were but weren't. As with anything your experiences are what you make of them. The danger is calling attention to yourself to the level that it becomes necessary. You gain perspective, hopefully, from your family and loved ones. You are not going to get that from someone who has a different agenda than you and yours.

Joe Ross 6 years, 4 months ago

Please. Athleticism doesnt mean it's a given that a player will be good at a sport. A better chance, yes. But being "good" is not a foregone conclusion. Practice and time are still necessary. Every player that comes to Kansas is athletic, but look at how much time they have to spend in practice. Andas results on the floor show, some of these athletic guys--even with the benefit of years of coaching--are not as good as youd expect some of them to be. It takes A LOT of practice even for athletic kids.

I knew a player on the basketball team several years ago. Freakishly athletic. Couldnt crack the rotation until scrub time.


Harlan Hobbs 6 years, 4 months ago

Good post, Humpy. You obviously are a very wise family man.

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