Toddlers Starting Controversial Sports Training

Would you put your baby or toddler into sports training?
Some folks are doing it.

One organization is teaching structured fitness training to toddlers, but some in the medical community are throwing up red flags on this idea.

Doreen Bolhuis said, “We would not leave academic education to chance and hope that children will figure it out. We cannot leave physical literacy education to chance."

At Gymco Sports in Grand Rapids, Michigan, Doreen Bolhuis trains tykes -- some of them only a few months old -- to kick, throw, climb, and balance. Bolhuis' goal is to get kids moving, earlier than ever before.

“We like to do things we're good at. So when we teach children how to move, well, they're going to keep moving and choose to be active,” Bolhuis said.

Nora Cares is an acolyte. Her now middle school kids have been training since they were two.

She said, “I think it set them apart in that they built their confidence a lot sooner than other kids their age.”

Cares said, “I remember when I was really young, I'd like to go on the balance beams. I remember jumping on the trampolines.”
But doctors like Nyu's Dennis Cardone worry about pushing kids into specialized sports too soon.

She said, “We are seeing injuries in younger children that we've never seen before. We're seeing overuse injuries, which were exclusive to adults. Now we see them in seven and eight year-olds.”

The government now classifies more than ten percent of preschool-aged children as "obese."

Cardone said, “Everyone agrees kids need to be more active. It's the how that's the question. There's organic play -- and then there's specialized sports. Where do you cross the line?”

She went on to say, “Unstructured activity probably will lead to less of these overuse type injuries that we see. It's not until you introduce a parent or a coach into the activity that it leads to these overuse type injuries."

It's one thing to encourage babies to stretch and roll -- say psychologists like Wendy Walsh -- but toddler sports training is extreme parenting she says, especially for kids who may not be ready for this.

Walsh said, “You want to be a good parent? Go to the playground! Climb the monkey bars with your kids. You can get in shape with them. I used to do pull-ups on the bars and sit-ups in the sandbox. Ok? That's what kids need.”

The Mayo Clinic concludes unstructured physical activity -- not training -- is best for kids up to age five. But tell that to a thriving gym full of two, three, and four year-olds.

Bolhuis said, “I understand that there are skeptics and there are concerns. Every good thing can be done in a harmful way, but the fear of that should not keep us from doing the good things that we know are important for our children.”

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