Travel teams, elite clubs, and other showcase youth sport events may help early developing kids physically ahead of their peers, but what about other kids who haven’t yet experienced puberty and are still growing into their bodies? As we continue to separate kids based on sport skills at earlier and earlier ages, an unintended byproduct is that many kids who haven’t yet developed physically are being overlooked for sport opportunities — and those early bloomers who have been selected for elite sports based on size and strength run a much greater risk for eventual sport burnout. Unfortunately, this trend is only becoming more prevalent, causing problems for both late and early developing kids.
Don’t write off late (normal?) bloomers
Kids grow and develop physically at different rates, and it is important that we provide sport opportunities for all kids, from childhood through late adolescence. When we push aside smaller kids who haven’t hit their growth spurt, and double-down our resources and attention toward early-developing kids, there are two big risks to acknowledge:
1. Most smaller kids will eventually grow in size, and often these kids excel in sports as their bodies catch up with their skill set — but will these kids hang around and continue to play when they feel like they are being squeezed out of sports?
2. Many early-developing kids experience sport burnout, injuries, or simply decide to spend their time doing other things beyond their sport. While it is exciting to see these early-bloomers excel, is it worth it to push them so hard that they voluntarily walk away from their sport just a few years later?
By ignoring smaller kids, and over-attending to early-maturing kids, we run the risk of losing a lot of kids who might later turn out to be quite good, and burn kids out who initially experienced fun playing sports but not feel mentally exhausted at a relatively early age in life. In fact, former MLB player Tom House reminds us that “Hall of Famers are late bloomers,” and to “trust the process.” Sadly, when kids are cut from sport teams before high school and not given a chance to play, most never come back — certainly not an ideal scenario for most kids who still haven’t experienced puberty.
Early maturing kids almost always get the bulk of attention in youth sports, for obvious reasons. Bigger kids run faster, throw farther, and hit harder, but they can also become quickly burned out from sports when adults (coaches and parents) push too hard, too fast. When kids begin to think of their sport as a job rather than a fun experience, they begin to check out, and many quit sports altogether. On the other hand, while keeping sports fun and inclusive for smaller kids may be challenging, it is important to remember that these same kids will hit puberty and experience growth spurts that may eventually pay big dividends on the field.