I ran across an article in the Detroit News this week and the subject was a program that is being used to revive participation and interest in youth baseball within the city. Very interesting article and I will link to it below if you are interested in the full story. However there was a statement in the article by a Detroit high school coach that really caught my attention:
"(The program) is helping build an interest in baseball, but as the kids get older, sports like basketball, soccer and football become more prevalent. By the time they get to the 12-14 range, a lot of the other coaches — some, but not all — make the kids make a decision on what sports to play."
Unfortunately I hear this idea that kids need to choose their sport by the age of 12 years old way to often. In fear of sounding like a broken record, the earliest a young athlete should choose a sport is freshman year in high school and even then I believe it’s not ideal for their long-term athletic development. Kids need diversity throughout the year to allow time for their body and minds to recover. Not to mention the diverse tools that are added to their athletic foundation will absolutely transfer to their sport of choice. The only time a parent/coach should intercede and make a decision regarding a child’s sport participation is to pull back on the reins if they are getting excessive exposure to one sport. Aside from the physical demands imposed on kids by early specialization it’s also been my experience that one-sport athletes put way too much pressure on themselves and lean toward obsessive-compulsive behavior. They need a break so they don’t eat themselves alive by over-competing. 
I also read any article this week about the Detroit Tigers hitting coach that provided an excellent example of prudent coaching. Lloyd McClendon is catching a lot of heat this summer for the teams hitting struggles. In an attempt to defend himself McClendon stated:
“We try to arm them with every piece of information as far as what a guy is going to do. After that it is up to the player to get it done."
What kind of information do the players get?
They are given: downloads on each opposing pitcher for their computers or iPads; a cheat sheet that includes pitches each pitcher likes to throw on certain counts, what their out pitch is, what they throw when they are in a jam and what they like to throw when there is nobody on and two outs.
And, there is a general hitters meeting along with individual ones at the batting cage and film room study. Basically, everything imaginable.
Have you ever heard of paralysis by analysis? Overloading an athlete with to much information (over-coaching) is a sure fire way to tip the scales away from athletic instinct and reflex and toward stifled and delayed timing and reaction. The wise old manager Jim Leyland has more sage advice for his coaches:
"You usually don't mess with the players during a game," Leyland said. "You show them afterward. When a guy is not doing something, you say here is why. Here is the tape." 
I can speak from experience and your children will likely echo my thought; coaching from the stands or sidelines by shouting at a player never works! Whatever you say will not be useful while they are in the game it will only serve to distract and add to their competitive stress. Not to mention it often embarrasses kids to be called out in front of teammates, opponents and even strangers. Do your coaching at practice and when the game starts role out the balls and let the kids have at it, it’s their time.
I am not claiming that absolutely no coaching should go on during a game but any advice that is given should be provided quietly and individually on the sidelines or on the bench and should be short and succinct. Example: “That was a tough play Joey, next time that happens if you stay in the tunnel (lower your athletic stance) I know you can make the play next time.” That advice is non-threatening potentially calms the athlete’s anxiety over a mistake and you have provided a useful cue that is easy to understand.
Sport can be an ideal vehicle for the delivery of key concepts to children and parents alike. In just one day, and they just happened to be the only two articles I read, two key concepts of youth sport participation were highlighted; early specialization and over-coaching. While baseball was the example in the articles these two concepts are applicable to all sports. I challenge you the next time you are reading the sports page to find a key lesson that can be applied to the athletic development of your child. And often the lessons we learn in sport are just as applicable to the game of life. Use sport for the overall benefit and development of your child, that’s what the sport experience should be about.
Food For Thought:
Do Kids Need Supplements?
An interesting study recently revealed that younger children (2-8 years of age) tend to have adequate nutrient intakes regardless of supplement use. Further, the study reveals that older children (over 8 years of age) tend to be deficient in certain nutrients (magnesium, phosphorus, vitamins A, C, and E) that are made adequate with the use of supplements. However, while a deficit was resolved through the use of supplements, these same supplements also lead to excess intake of other nutrients.  I have covered my thoughts on supplements in the recent past but the short version is that supplements that are isolated and added to food or squeezed in to a capsule or pill are inferior to the nutrients obtained through the consumption of whole foods.
In my mind this study reinforces my opinion because supplements provide nutrients in an environment in which they normally do not exist with other co-factors like enzymes and fiber that are found in whole foods. And it is my strong opinion that the reason nutrients like vitamin C are so effective is because they come naturally packaged in ideal ratios with these nutrient co-factors when you eat a fruit or vegetable, for example. Eating a variety of foods and eating them at the peak of the season will provide a strong defense against any nutrient deficiencies.
It’s also interesting that younger children had more adequate nutrient intakes than the older children. This could be attributable to the fact the younger children tend to eat more meals and snacks at home. Meals and snacks prepared at home are more likely to contain fresh whole foods like fruit and vegetables.
Many fruits and vegetables are at the peak of their freshness at the local farmers markets right now. Take a family trip to the market in your town and infuse your family with a rainbow of nutrients!
Youth Fitness/Nutrition Specialist