Don't win the game and lose the child

By Thierry Bessède (2MF Sport teacher) 




More and more sports clubs today believe children need to practice their sport a few times per week to progress. This is called early specialization. In fact, some might tell you that to become an elite athlete you have to specialize very early. But is this true?


In 2017 a research paper investigated it (Arne Güllich J Sports Sci. 2017 Dec). What was the difference between medalists and non-medalists at World Championships and Olympic Games. They chose a wide range of sports and found that medalists started their specific sport specialization late, whilst non medalists started their sport specialization early. Medalists were also engaged in many different sports non-related to their main sport. 


So why do local football teams ask very young kids to come to 3 trainings and 1 match per week? The same goes for tennis, gymnastics, golf, swimming, etc.. Often we try to make champions out of children and the focus is on performance, rather than enjoyment. Think about it another way, how many eggs can you throw on the wall before one actually sticks? What about the children that fail? We must remember: “don’t win the game and lose the child”


There are plenty of examples of professional athletes who started their sport very late, or even changed sport during their professional career. Michael Jordan switched from basketball to baseball, Primoz Roglic from ski jumping to cycling. Petr Cech from football to ice hockey. Elise Chabbey from canoeing to cycling. Greg Norman learnt golf at 15 years old and won 88 trophies including 2 majors. Stan Wawrinka started tennis at 8 years old, and only practiced once a week until he was 11 before practicing 3 times a week.

In the end, children must have fun. A variety of sports brings fun and enables the child to develop many skills. It also prevents injuries as you don’t over repeat the same movements. And the most important: PLAY. Sport should be fun. Before teenage years, racing doesn’t even make a huge amount of sense, unless it’s for enjoyment. Less than 2% of junior performances translate into senior performances (Barth, Sports Med. 2024).


Children need to be active, but active in many different sports, and playing is the most important aspect.

Don’t win the game and lose the child.