In Massachusetts, there is a great tradition of youth hockey with intensely competitive leagues starting from young ages to high school. Yet, very few hockey players who are brought up in Massachusetts hockey programs progress to play on the national team. In contrast, Minnesota hockey programs are designed around a recreational and skill development model. And these athletes have experienced greater success in progressing to the highest levels.
Youth Training Models and Their Differences
While we can’t scientifically identify why this has occurred, we can speculate that a different training model may be more effective. US Hockey has since reevaluated how they train their youth athletes. Lacrosse experts might want to evaluate the construction and implementation of the current system.
With these points in mind, parents of children in sports are often in a good position if they can encourage a passionate yet balanced approach to sports that celebrates the passionate pursuit of fun and excellence. We want our youth to enjoy the game so that they continue to participate and sustain their love of play and exercise.
For those youth who may be curious about sports as they watch their old brothers and sisters play, it can be appropriate, but not necessary, to expose them to that same sport, whether it is baseball, soccer, or lacrosse. Learning the basics of throwing and scooping with soft sticks and balls, playing catch with a glove, or kicking a ball, if offered in a fun, safe and informal manner can be a nice way of introducing sports to children. Most children will be more interested in playing fun games then they are in skill development, so having a fun catch in the back yard is a great place to start. And while there are some organized sport opportunities for 4 and 5 year-old children, it is critical that such structures are fun based and without structured competition.
The Right Structure
Reasons for this approach include the following about young kids. Their auditory and visual capacities are in the early stages of development. Depth perception, static vision, auditory discrimination skills are not mature. Gross motor skills are developing and fine motor skills are just developing. Cognitively, they understand very little about the principles and rules of games or how to be a member of a team. These are some of the many physiological limitations of this age group, all of which inform us to have very limited expectations and demands.
Focus on What’s Important
Even young kids may keep score when playing informal games. Our job as adults is to focus on making it fun and safe for them while they learn a little about the game. The objective in this age group is to make the game so enjoyable that the kids want to play again the next season. If we can do this, we are doing our jobs.
This article was adapted by Dr. Ginsburg’s original posting on the US Lacrosse website and from the book Whose Game Is It, Anyway?, Ginsburg, Durant and Baltzell