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Children and Parents Feel Pressure to Specialize in Sports

Jeff Wasson

The Winter Olympics begin tomorrow, which got us thinking about the young athletes who will be watching the games... who may one day compete at state, national , or international levels.

Now more than ever, children and their parents are faced with the decision of whether or not to specialize in a sport at an early age – some children being only a few years old. Today on Talk of Iowa, we explore the concept of specializing children in sports.

Today's guests include: John O’Sullivan, founder of Changing the Game Project, Jennifer Waldron, Associate Professor of Physical Education at the University of Northern Iowa, and Stephanie Schlabaugh, a mother of five residing in Kalona, IA.

According to John O'Sullivan, there are 3 big myths causing parents to want to special their children in a sport early-on:

1. Children have to specialize early.

2. People who perform best focus only on winning. (He says the most successful athletes are the ones who have failed the most, learning from their experience.)

3. Specialization will turn into a scholarship. (Only 1-2% of HS athletes will receive a sports scholarship, and of those, the average amount is only $11,000.)

For the parents asking; "When is too young for my child to specialize in a sport?" Jennifer Waldron offers this advice:

"The ages of 7 through 11 should be a sampling stage where children participate in many different sports."

This way, kids can develop many different skills, find out what interests them, and effectively avoids the feeling of being "too burned out" on a certain activity.

And most importantly, let kids have fun with it.

"After the game, it's usually the parents who hang on to the score," while the kids just want ice cream, says Sullivan.

Charity Nebbe is the host of IPR's Talk of Iowa