Saturday, July 9, 2011

Sons, Sports, and Wisdom

Recently, a friend whose son is a professional athlete in Europe, pulled me aside to encourage me to think carefully about cultivating the athletic abilities of one of my sons.  I respect this man [an ordained minister] and so have been - for the first time in my life - seriously thinking about how best to incorporate sports into their lives.  The following article has been a big help, so I thought I'd share it.

Picking the Right Sport
By Richard & Jane Hawes [abridged]
Phase One: Laying the Foundation

Between the ages of 5 and 11, you just want to lay the foundation for future learning – "teach the nerves how to talk to the muscles" (before age 5, just let them play).
Try different sports and physical activities that enhance the body's ability to learn where it is in space [martial arts, dance, gymnastics and swimming]. That's called "body awareness," and it happens when your nervous system knows exactly how much oomph it takes to get a muscle to move. Activities that require fluid whole-body movement enhances one's ability to move efficiently and enables him to pick up skills needed in other sports more easily.

Phase Two: The Window of Opportunity

Between the ages of about 11 and 14 is "the window of opportunity" when the body's nerves and muscles are ripe for acquiring skills, mastering a sport, and preparing the body for harder training later. Don’t specialize too early because adolescent growth will undo previously-acquired skills, leading to frustration and burnout. This is when you want to pick a favorite sport. But when you do so, take a good, honest look at yourself because research overwhelmingly shows that your child's adult physique will be just like the parents' - and most often like the mother's.

Here’s a list of descriptive phrases, a short explanation of how each applies to physical activities, and then a list of sports that people who match those adjectives might want to try.

Phase Three: Matching Natural Attributes to Activities

Speed: This means the body's muscles are mostly composed of fast-twitch fibers that enable them to move and react quickly to the instructions that the nervous system is giving them: badminton, baseball/softball, basketball, board/ski sports, boxing, diving, fencing, field hockey, football, gymnastics, ice hockey, lacrosse, martial arts, track and field, volleyball, wrestling.

Stamina: This means the body has mostly slow-twitch muscle fibers which can support the same type of movement for an extended period of time; sometimes, but not always, this person might not possess much speed: crew, cross-country skiing, distance swimming, distance track events.
Note: People with ADHD also tend to do very well with endurance sports. It seems counter-intuitive because of the length of time that concentration is required, but that bottomless pit of energy and the soothing structure of repetitive movement are very complementary.

Both speed and stamina: or has neither in abundance: crew, figure skating, golf, soccer, middle-distance swimming, synchronized swimming, tennis/squash, middle-distance track events, water polo.

Agile: Can execute small, quick movements with precision: badminton, basketball, board/ski sports, bowling, boxing, fencing, field hockey, figure skating, football, gymnastics, ice hockey, lacrosse, martial arts, synchronized swimming, track and field, water polo, wrestling, volleyball.

Flexible: Can move the limbs through a noticeably wide range of motion and is more prone to dislocating joints: diving, fencing, figure skating, gymnastics, martial arts, swimming, synchronized swimming, track and field, volleyball, water polo, wrestling.

Note: An athlete who is flexible to the point of having hyper-extended or double-jointed limbs should probably avoid contact sports.

Power: Can focus a burst of energy effectively and efficiently: baseball/softball, crew, sprint cycling events, fencing, football, gymnastics, ice hockey, lacrosse, martial arts, synchronized swimming, tennis/squash, track and field, volleyball, water polo, wrestling.

Short legs: This doesn't always mean the athlete is short, but often he or she is. Mostly it means that the torso and legs are about the same length, so the athlete has what's known as a "low center of gravity" which makes it easier to control movement close to the ground: board/ski sports, field hockey, some positions in football, ice hockey, martial arts, track sprints, soccer, wrestling.

Long legs: Again, not always tall, but often is. This means the athlete's torso is shorter in relation to the legs and has a high center of gravity which makes it easier to control other types of movement: crew, golf, high jump, pole vault, volleyball.

High Pain Tolerance: This person can deal with the kind of pain that anaerobic or lactic-acid-generating activity creates: crew, synchronized swimming, middle-distance swimming, middle-distance track events, water polo.

Good Balance: This is the child who doesn't seem to get hurt no matter what dumb risks he or she takes, whether climbing up or jumping off things: archery, bowling, curling, diving, equestrian, figure skating, football, golf, gymnastics, soccer, synchronized swimming, tennis/squash, track and field, volleyball, water polo, wrestling.

Fearless: Usually goes hand-in-hand with having good balance, but also includes a certain lack of concern about physical well being: diving, gymnastics, pole vault, water polo.

Can turn the brain off: No, this is not a polite way of saying "dumb." It's just that people like this are able to stop thinking and let instincts take over: boxing, swimming sprints, track sprints.
Note: Don't be surprised if a child who is hyperanalytical does not do well with these sports.

Steady: This is more a neurological than a physical trait. People with great steadiness have the ability to calm themselves down so much they can discern their own heartbeat and launch movement between heartbeats: archery, billiards, bowling, golf, riflery.

Great eye sight: Sees fine details easily and can judge how far away something is: archery, baseball/softball, billiards, bowling, golf, riflery, tennis/squash, volleyball.

Richard Hawes is a professor of physical education, specializing in exercise physiology and kinesiology, at Ohio Wesleyan University. His wife Jane Hawes, who is also the editor of Columbus Parent, took the big scientific words he uses and translated them into plain English.

Monday, August 30, 2010 06:00 AM

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