They launched whiffle balls at hoola hoop targets spread around the field. Third-grade students were learning to ride skateboards. Protected by helmets, knee and elbow pads, they were slaloming around the sport court and speeding down the fire lane from the Lower School parking lot. In perhaps the most remarkable of the Chandler PE experiences, fourth-grade students were riding unicycles. I have tried it. I can’t do it, and I always look at the kids who have mastered the skill with a mix of envy and admiration.
Intramural soccer games in sixth grade and interscholastic boys’ basketball and girls’ soccer games in seventh and eighth grade completed the snapshot of a week of organized physical activity led by Bill Anderson, Mychal Johnson, Ady Jimenez and our Middle School teacher/coaches. Chandler is in service to nurturing healthy minds in healthy bodies, and our PE and Athletics program fulfills part of that objective.
Last Tuesday evening in the second of this school year’s CFA sponsored parent education presentations, Dr. Kathleen Lytal, a double board certified Kaiser pediatrician, spoke on the topic of Youth Sports: Keeping Young Student-Athletes Happy, Healthy and Successful.
Dr. Lytal shared a lot of data. 64% of boys and 37% of girls aged 6-18 are involved in organized sports. Physical benefits include fitness, stress relief and healthy habits. Participation in sports develops resilience, identity, leadership and time-management skills. Social benefits include peer socialization, teamwork and community pride. Active kids do better later in life. They are more likely to go college; they are more productive at work and they save a lot in direct medical costs because they stay healthier than people who are inactive.
With those encouraging statistics as a backdrop, Dr. Lytal offered advice about when to sign up for a new sport. A child is ready to participate in organized sports when they have some requisite antecedent skills. For children aged 5-7 it’s good if they know how to kick a ball or track a slow pitched ball before signing them up for soccer or baseball.
Injuries are not uncommon. Young people in the 5-14 age group have different issues and tissues than adults because of their thinner bones, softer cartilages and open growth plates. Overuse can be damaging. Where adults tend to push through pain, youngsters need to listen to their bodies and rest when they experience pain.
Dr. Lytal stressed the importance of avoiding sports specialization. She talked about the incorrect extrapolation of the "10,000 hours over 10 years" thesis popularized by Malcolm Gladwell in Outliers. Early sports diversification is recommended for students in elementary and middle school with the noted exceptions of gymnastics, figure skating, swimming and diving.
Youth sports have evolved from child-driven free play to adult-structured practice. Parents need to be careful not to let their kids overdo participation. Burnout and risks of injury increase significantly when a student participates in an activity for 16 hours or more per week. Young people need at least one day a week of rest.
Dr. Lytal concluded her informative talk with two website recommendations for those who want to learn more: The American Academy of Pediatrics website at aap.org