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Earlier is Not Often Better
August 13, 2002

"While one person hesitates because he feels inferior, the other is busy making mistakes and becoming superior." —Henry C. Link


In September, 2000 issue of Child Care Information Exchange, David Elkind addressed the issue of getting children started early in the field of athletics. In his article, "Young Children and Sports," Elkind observed...

"Wrong ideas have a nasty habit of catching on, and clinging on, more easily than correct ideas. The belief that earlier is better in relation to early childhood is one such wrong idea that seems to have caught on and is difficult to combat. With respect to sports, there is no evidence that starting children early in any particular sport gives them a lasting advantage or edge.

"On the other hand, if there is a sport in which the whole family is involved, such as skiing, then starting early in age-appropriate ways makes sense because it will allow the child to participate in a family activity. It is quite a different matter, however, when parents who are not themselves involved in a sport engage their young child in that activity. Parents of this persuasion often put a young child on a soccer or baseball team, or give her skating or tennis lessons, in hopes that this will ensure her becoming an Olympic athlete.

"Such an expectation is entirely misguided. First of all, the young child's body is differently configured than that of an adult. The three- or four-year-old child has a head about one-fourth the size of her body, the equivalent of an adult with a beachball-sized head. What this means is that playing an adult sport many put undue stress on young bodies. In fact there is now a pediatrics subspecialty, pediatric sports medicine, that deals exclusively with sports injuries to children. We know now, for example, that Little League pitchers should not throw curve balls. With the exception of gifted athletes such as Tiger Woods, there is no evidence that starting a preschooler in organized sports gives him any lasting advantage. On the other hand, there is evidence that engaging in adult sports at an early age can put children at risk for long-lasting injuries."

The September 2000 issue can be purchased as part of the 2000 Back Issue set now available at www.ChildCareExchange.com. In addition complete sets of the 1999 and 2001 back issues are also available.


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