Sports Training Before Potty Training?

Andrew Dalton

Dreaming about your little boy being the next Tiger Woods? Okay, I guess that's rare at the moment except for truly sleazy dads. What I mean is -- are you ready for your kid to start showing off his (or her) mad skillz before they're out of diapers?

Tinier and tinier kids and freakier and freakier parents are getting into sports training before potty training.

They've got this bit of gold from fitness trainer and horrifying-quote-machine Doreen Bolhuis: "With the babies in our family, I start working them out in the hospital." And later: "Our kids are superstars when they’re in middle school and they get into sports." 

The Times uses tiny-kid gyms like the one Bolhuis runs in Michigan and DVDs like Baby Goes Pro to suggest that we're in a new era of sporty overparenting.

I sense a little bit of what Jack Shafer at Slate calls bogus trendspotting here. It's very common in babyland. The Times is conflating kiddie exercise with kiddie competition. It's not like anyone is suggesting 18-month-olds should be on competitive teams with uniforms, scores, and tryouts. Wait, actually plenty of people would suggest that, but it's not like that is some widespread phenomenon.

But insofar as the phenomenon is real, it's comical and pointless to think that moves a kid makes in a crib will affect her athletic skills later. It is, as former NBA player Bob Bigelow calls it, "Baby Mozart stuff." And even if we're talking about 4- and 5-year-olds, the need so many feel to corral little ones into teams and leagues is just bonkers.

I was the son of a football coach and former basketball star, and I could not get enough of sports almost from birth. Yet my parents had reservations about me going into full-bore little league at 9 years old. And football was for high-schoolers.

It's not so much that sports do irreparable harm to the pre-K kids, though as some of the experts in the article point out kids are already getting repetitive stress and early burnout injuries from the year-round exposure to hard competition.

The bigger problem is just the fuss. It's ludicrous to spend this level of time, money, and organizing on kids who still have to be told, repeatedly, which one is first base.

I know many of these teams don't even have winners and losers. Before I had kids I remember hearing talk radio show hosts rant about how they weren't keeping score in little league anymore. But I came to learn that most are leagues that wouldn't have existed at all in our youth because our parents rightly thought it was too much. The idea that somehow our kids don't have enough exposure to competing and losing anymore is just ridiculous. There's a T-Ball World Series, for God's sake.

Of course exercise for the wee ones, however it comes, is a great thing. And as I've learned living in a condo in the suburbs where we don't have a yard like people in houses nor walk as much as people in the city, sometimes you have to schedule gym time for the tiny ones just like everybody else.

But sports for small kids should be as disorganized as possible. Baseball bases, in most cases, should be rocks or paper plates. The preferred game should be Calvinball. Even if you love sports to death, this is the way to instill pure joy. Brutal competition can come later, there's plenty of it in the world.

What do you think of organized sports for the littlest kids?


Image via MikeTungate/Flickr

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