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 (http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21623307). 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
8. Static and Dynamic Balancing
- Locomotor Skills
- Object Control Skills
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 (http://www.newswise.com/articles/intense-specialized-training-in-young-athletes-linked-to-serious-overuse-injuries ) 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 (http://www.uslacrosse.org/Portals/0/safety/pdf/PositionPaperYouthParticipation.pdf) 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!