How early is too early?
In Canada, ski clubs are asked to adopt the Long Term Athlete Development Plan (LTAD)http://www.canadiansportforlife.ca/learn-about-canadian-sport-life/ltad-stages
This document was created by sport scientists and experts in the field of kinesiology, physical education, coaching, physiology, biomechanics among others. LTAD was introduced over 10 years ago in Canada to the cross country ski community. Clubs have responded by using the language and recommendations to design yearly training and racing programs. This has had far reaching effects.
The conversation is at different places with different sports. I came across an article on Sport IQ, a blog I follow. The conversation focused on early specialization in ice hockey. Hockey Canada is the national sport organization and has a section of their website devoted to long term athlete development - http://www.hockeycanada.ca/en-ca/Hockey-Programs/Coaching/LTPD.aspx
In Canada, hockey dominates the sport culture. In a city the size of Calgary there might be over 100,000 children playing organized hockey. There are schools and specialized programs aimed at hockey players such National Sport Development or The Edge private school. There are year round training opportunities, leagues, and camp programs for developing hockey players. Children attend tryouts at 6 or 7 years old and are tiered into ability groupings. Its big business and taken quite seriously. Lots of good work happens in hockey. Kids develop a passion for the game. Kids develop technical and social skills. Kids have fun. I certainly am no expert on hockey player development but I do get sense from talking with parents of hockey kids that there is no shortage of opportunities for children of all ages to play hockey every month of the year in the greater Calgary area.
The Sport IQ blog post I came across provides a good perspective on the pitfalls of early specialization. In Canada, where passion for hockey resides like almost no other place, it is I think quite easy for alot of parents to get caught up in the 'my kid is the next Sidney Crosby' kind of thinking. That type of thinking can encourage parents to do too much too soon. I encourage you to read the article titled 'Early Specialization and Year round training are destroying youth hockey' http://www.getsportiq.com/2013/11/early-specialization-and-year-round-training-is-destroying-youth-hockey/ The ideas there are just as relevant to the cross country ski perspective.
Its nice to come across something that aligns with your own set of priorities. Its nice to see the conversation happening in other sports. Bravo to Hockey Canada and to the hockey community for tackling this important athlete development issue.