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Beware of Youth Sports Camps! by: Rick Howard

Unfortunately, regular participation in organized youth sports does not ensure adequate exposure to skill- and health-related fitness activities, and sport training without preparatory conditioning does not appear to reduce the risk of injury in youngsters ( With disturbing trends of eliminating or greatly reducing physical education, ill-advised focus on early sport specialization, not giving kids time for free play and the lack of emphasis on developing fundamental fitness skills before engaging in sports, does it make sense to send preadolescents to a sports camp? Many of these camps do not support physical literacy and long term athlete development.

Quality sports camps for preadolescents should teach ALL attendees the progressions and developmental combinations for fundamentals of:

  • health-fitness and skills-fitness activities integrated into the practice design
  • the game and how to play a variety of positions
  • the fundamentals of playing a variety of games and a variety of positions.
  • AND all that needs to be balanced with continued development of fundamental movements:
  • Body Management Skills
    1. Rolling
    2. Stopping
    3. Bending
    4. Twisting
    5. Landing
    6. Stretching
    7. Climbing

8. Static and Dynamic Balancing
9. Turning

  • Locomotor Skills
    1. Crawling
    2. Running
    3. Galloping
    4. Walking
    5. Hopping
    6. Skipping
    7. Dodging

8. Jumping


  • Object Control Skills
    1. Throwing
    2. Catching
    3. Striking
    4. Bouncing
    5. Dribbling
    6. Kicking

Ignoring teaching the fundamentals of movement skills for lifelong movement and sports is like expecting kids to take algebra without mastering numbers, place values, operations, fractions and decimals, and problem solving.

Noteworthy findings from a recent study, Risks of Specialized Training and Growth in Young Athletes: a Prospective Clinical Cohort Study ( ) include:

  • young athletes who spent more hours per week than their age playing one sport – such as a 12-year-old who plays tennis 13 or more hours a week – were 70 percent more likely to experience serious overuse injuries than other injuries
  • young athletes were more likely to be injured if they spent more than twice as much time playing organized sports as they spent in unorganized free play — for example, playing 11 hours of organized soccer each week, and only 5 hours of free play such as pick-up games
  • athletes who suffered serious injuries spent an average of 21 hours per week in total physical activity (organized sports, gym and unorganized free play), including 13 hours in organized sports. By comparison, athletes who were not injured, participated in less activity – 17.6 hours per week in total physical activity, including only 9.4 hours in organized sports

The authors recommend:

  • do not specialize in one sport before late adolescence. Encourage early diversification in playing a range of sports
  • young athletes should not spend more hours per week in organized sports than their ages. Do not spend more than twice as much time playing organized sports as you spend in gym and unorganized play
  • do not play sports competitively year round. Take a break from competition for one-to-three months each year (not necessarily consecutively).

•    take at least one day off per week from training in sports.

Additional recommendations from US Lacrosse’s Position Statement on Youth Participation ( include:

  • provide 1-2 days off per week from competitive sports.
  • provide 2-3 months away from a specific sport during the year.
  • emphasize fun, safety and sportsmanship as goals of sport.
  • check that training and playing time increase no more than 10 percent each week.
  • allow children to participation on only one team per season.
  • reduce excessive playing time in all day, weekend tournaments.
  • athletes at the U-9, U-11, U-13 and U-15 level should have at least 2-3 months away from sport specific training and competition during the year.
  • athletes at the U-9, U-11, U-13 and U-15 level should play on only one lacrosse team during a season. If an athlete is playing on more than one team in the same season, they should not participate for more than 16-20 hours per week.
  • tournaments should not be played at the U-9 level. The emphasis at this level should remain on skill development and team concepts.
  • All-Star teams should not be created at the U-9 and U-11 levels.

When searching for the best sports camps for preadolescents, consider those that meet the above criteria and develop athleticism, not sport-specificity. Sport-specific camps might not provide the instruction and opportunity for kids to develop their preparatory fitness and skills. Multi-sport camps would be a great idea to allow kids the opportunity to learn and sample many different sports and activities. It is the kids’ proficiency, self-efficacy, and positive exposure that will help them develop to their potential. Use the extra time for free play and family fitness fun!

How tall is your pyramid?

by: Rick Howard

Build the Base

According to Martin Rooney, author of Training for Warriors (not to mention awe-inspiring displays by Egyptians, Mayans, and esteemed mathematicians), a pyramid can only be as tall as its base. How does this revelation help you fill the talent pool?


All youth athletes need to develop a strong physical, social, and psychological foundation (the base of the youth development pyramid) in order to realize not only athletic potential but also to have the skills, confidence, and poise to be physically active for their entire lives. Unfortunately, however, the youth sport and the youth physical education/physical activity popular cultures are “built” on bases that are too narrow to support complete youth development at each youngster’s appropriate level.

What should youth sports be doing to build the base?

Youth sport programs must produce results to generate customers. But being the U-9 champs should NOT BE the primary objective. The focus should not be on the product (winning) but on the process (engaging). Less than 0.01 % of Little League World Series players ever play professional baseball.  Statistics on the ever-elusive-college-scholarship are equally as dismal. The pressure to win often leads to burnout, injury, and discontinuation not only in the sport but in physical activity, in general. The result youth sports programs SHOULD BE producing is successful movers in a variety of environments, with an eye on continued improvement, enjoyment, and participation (did you know that 70% of kids drop out of youth sports by age 13?).

Is being physically active enough?

The physical education/physical activity paradigm has shifted emphasis from building a strong foundation through motor skill development, sports skills, tactics and strategies, and positive attitude toward games, fitness, and sport to what they call lifetime fitness activities (defined by adults, not kids). These activities include: walking, jogging, swimming, tennis, and weight training. While part of an active lifestyle, shouldn’t all youth be exposed to a variety of sports and activities so that they can make the choice which one(s) to continue throughout the lifespan? The answer, of course, is YES!!  Physical fitness (improving qualities like strength, endurance, balance, power, and speed) has been replaced with health-fitness (which, in theory would help kids decrease risk of cardiovascular disease, low back pain, etc. but has not been longitudinally measured) and includes cardiorespiratory endurance, muscle strength and endurance, flexibility and body composition.

Lifetime fitness activities and health-related fitness are only a piece of the puzzle, certainly not enough to build a pyramid. Sports are often what excite kids to exercise, be outdoors, go to school, etc. (It’s no accident that the spokespersons for most fitness and activity programs are athletes, with whom kids (and adults) can identify— —not low back pain specialists or cardiologists). By focusing on the end-product of being moderately to vigorously active within a very narrow performance base, with no measurement of progress of becoming proficient movers, is selling our kids short.

How you can broaden the base to help Fill the Talent Pool

So, how do you broaden the base of the pyramid with positive physical, social, and psychological skills to make the pyramid be as tall (leading to physically literacy) as possible? Include, at all developmental stages, for both boys and girls:

  • Physical components, such as strength building, agility and balance, speed, and fundamental motor skills, incorporated into a variety of sports and games opportunities
  • Social components, such as trying different activities with different groups of youngsters, providing non-structured play opportunities, and ensuring that a consistent message of sportsmanship, camaraderie, and teamwork permeates the organization
  • Psychological components, such as providing positive experiences that lead to the development of intrinsic motivation, matching youngsters to sports and activities that are age-related, not age-determined, and knowing how to provide proper cues and feedback at different stages of development,

The incredible challenge is that not every child is at the same developmental level at the same time and developmental progress is not always linear (i.e. there may be some back-sliding along the way—that’s ok!). The base of the pyramid does not need to be a regimented program of drills and exercises but a carefully thought out plan (which involves your aspiring lifelong sport/physical activity participant) that balances youth sport, physical education, structured and unstructured play, and being a kid!

Keep filling the talent pool!!



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