Sunday, June 27, 2010

Racquetball yes; only racquetball no.

The latest Racquetball Magazine issue focuses on the International Racquetball Tour (IRT) with interviews of the top four IRT players: Kane Waselenchuk, Jack Huczek, Rocky Carson, and Shane Vanderson. Three of the four - Waselenchuk, Carson and Vanderson - mention that they played other sports when they were younger. That is, they didn't specialize in playing racquetball until they were in their later teens. Jason Mannino also played other sports when he was younger.

The issue of specialization in sport at a young age is common with some people thinking that the more you play your sport the better you will be at it, even if it means not doing other things, including other sports. In Canada, you can now play hockey 12 months of the year, and there can be pressure - real or imagined - on parents to have their kids participate in off-season hockey camps lest their kids fall behind their peers.

But most sport experts now believe that early specialization is foolishness, because many physical skills are easier to learn at a young age. Thus, if a child doesn't play some sports, the child may not learn physical skills that could benefit them later. For example, if you haven't learned to skate prior age 16, then you're not likely to make the NHL regardless of how much effort you put into training.

Playing many different sports will allow kids to develop fundamental movement skills - skills applicable in all physical activities - that can later be honed with sport specific skill development as necessary. If Michael Phelps didn't throw a ball as a kid, then he'll find it hard to play water polo, because you have to be able to accurately throw a ball in water polo regardless of how well you swim.

USA Hockey has completely bought into this idea, and they have a brilliant video illustrating it, which begins with a series of scenes with kids playing various activities outdoors in bright sunshine and the tag line "This is hockey." The video is on the USA Hockey's American Development Model website.

USA Hockey developed this model, because they realized that some of their kids who were struggling at hockey couldn't do other physical activities either. Thus, they recognized that the kids needed to do more than just hockey activities.

We mention this topic as the USA Racquetball's Junior Olympics are going on in Minneapolis this week. All of the kids playing there will have played a lot of racquetball, which is why they are good racquetball players. But if they have not played other sports, then they probably will not be as good at racquetball as they could be.

Often we think of kids who are excelling at multiple sports as being naturally gifted, but maybe those kids are doing so because they have learned skills from those sports that help them excel in general.

Follow the bouncing ball....

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