Several years ago when we were developing our training programs for youth coaches I invited Dr. Richard Magill, a noted sports psychologist from Louisiana State University, to speak at one of our national conferences. I can still remember the words he said: Do you realize that an 8 year old can have the body and strength of a 12 year old, and vice-versa? All of a sudden the scene of just the week before flashed in front of me.
My son was playing third base and up to bat was this youngster who I swore could no way be in this 8-10 year olds' league. He looked huge compared to the other kids. He was the other team's pitcher and their star athlete. All of the parents sitting in the stands were abuzz talking about how this kid was destined for the major leagues.
As my wife and I sat there we watched this fearsome and menacing looking young athlete come to bat. It looked like Goliath was coming to slay David. The first pitch came in and with his big swing he ripped the ball down the third base line and missed my son's head by inches. I froze, thinking "What if that ball had hit his head?" I can assure you that if it had, my son would not be here today.
The above story is one that happens daily in youth sports. It doesn't matter what the sport. The facts are clear that in the world of early- and late-maturing kids, sports can be very unfair and dangerous. And not just physically, but psychologically, too. Let me explain.
Many kids, who mature early, are generally bigger, stronger, faster and therefore, with any kind of talent, become the stars of the team. The opposite happens for the late maturing kids. They are smaller, and generally thought of as not good enough to make the team. Therefore they are relegated to the bench. Now here's the interesting and sad part. As the early maturing kids grow older, their growth rate seems to stand still while the other kids begin to catch up. Hence, the parents in the stands begin to say, "Whatever happened to Billy"?
The problem is, Billy is not the "star" any more and Billy begins to feel something he never felt before. He begins to lose the self-confidence and self-esteem he once had.
This summer, as you happen to watch any kind of kids' games, keep in mind the early- and late-maturing kids. You'll see what I mean. And I sure hope you don't experience a "Billy" type scenario like my wife and I did.
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