Member opinions: Proud to have caring citizens and parents among us

Awfully proud to have such outspoken members:

Brad’s reservations, suggestions, and dreams on the subject of the Durham Chapel Hill light rail system can be read in this weekend’s News & Observer.

Tim’s suggestions for parents who really care about the sports skills of their kids should read the following OpEd:

Dear Editors,

Enclosed is an OpEd submission for your newspaper, regarding the recent Olympics and future youth athletic development. I am a local physician, 25 year hockey coach, former board member of Triangle Youth Hockey NC, and current Instructor for the USA Hockey Coaching Education Program.

Now that the Olympics are over, it’s time for introspection as to whether or not U.S. Olympic athletes reached their potential. How could a country such as Norway, one sixtieth the size of the U.S. bring home more medals? Are Norwegians better athletes than Americans? Do they develop athletes in a way to reach their potential? Maybe if the U.S. would develop all our young citizens to be better athletes, could we have a bigger group of candidates to choose from, as they reach prime sport-specific training years?

Until most recently, the United States has lacked a consistent message, with a plan, for long term athletic development of its youth. Starting in the 1980s, researchers such as Eric Ericcson, and Istvan Balyi, have identified stages in athletic development that correlate with growth and development of children. For instance, between age’s six to eight is a great window for the child to acquire agility, balance and coordination, and between nine through twelve is an opportune time for skill development in various sports. Twelve through fourteen years training to train abilities develop, and after 16 years old, a person is able to devote intensive time and effort to one or two sports, training to compete. Younger than that, over competing in a single sport, and undertraining for what the individual is ready to learn at a specific age leaves the athlete underdeveloped. That’s not to say you can’t acquire skills such as dribbling a basketball, swinging a club, or learning intricate footwork when you’re 20 or 25 or 50 years old, it’s just that between ages of 9 to 12, the body and brain are optimally able to develop a new skill. Moreover, the balance a six year old acquires stays with her, as muscle memory will retain that ability over time – “just like riding a bike”.

Many youth sports organizations in the United States over the last 30 years have facilitated adult training rituals and rules on children, with over competing in adult games, and undertraining the athlete for their appropriate athletic developmental stage. We displaced the sandlot and the backyard frozen pond on which to practice skills over and over. The United States does not have a sports ministry to oversee how we train youth, so it has been up to the youth sports governing bodies, such as USA Hockey, to come up with player development guidelines for all our young athletes to follow. The U.S. is late to the game, so to speak, as many European sports ministries and Canada have instituted these long term athletic development guidelines twenty years ago. USA Hockey implemented many changes to their player development system starting in 2007, and in 2009 introduced the American Development Model, with the encouragement of cross ice play and small area games devoted to skill development. The ultimate goal, of course, is to maximize time on the ice, maximize puck touches, and minimize time standing and watching, or even worse, in the car driving from tournament to tournament.

In 2014, the US Olympic Committee, partnering with various sport’s national governing bodies, adopted the ADM guidelines “ to help Americans realize their full athletic potential and utilize sport as a path toward an active and healthy lifestyle”. Assuming all American youth sports governing bodies develop sport specific guidelines with long term athletic development in mind, children will develop appropriate athletically, so they can have the opportunity to decide in high school, or even college, which sport they find the most fun and are truly passionate about. LTAD brings sport back to its roots for the young athlete, to let them develop their bodies in age appropriate fashion, and have more fun doing so, which will add to the likelihood of continuing into adulthood. Not everyone can be an Olympic athlete, but everyone can be an athlete. In Europe, many nations have incorporated these notions into their school curriculums, allowing for daily exercise along these guidelines.

The single most determining factor of whether a person will continue to participate in a sport throughout adulthood is whether they’ve had fun playing sports growing up. If we want our nation to have a healthy active adult lifestyle, investing in long term athletic development programs in our youth is the way to go. And we might just see our Olympic teams start to bring home a little more hardware from the Games.