Children and Training for Sports

How old should a child be to start serious athletic training?

Young children can start training for athletic competition at a very young age as far as their bodies are concerned, but they should not start before they want to accept the regimented lifestyle required for athletic competition. In 1967, I started competitive long distance running for young children and was the first national chairman of the age group committee of the Amateur Athletic Union and The Road Runners Club of America. Children came from all over the United States and Canada to compete in age group cross country and track running. Many were coached by experienced runners and trained with the same types of workouts used by older, more experienced runners. These children rarely suffered from injuries and when they were injured, they recovered faster than older runners do.

Young children are not at increased risk for injuries when they run races or lift weights. Doctors expressed concern that the growth centers in their bones would be more likely to break, but this rarely happens. However, many of the better runners quit. In one study from Southern California, 90 percent of female runners under age nine stopped running before they reached high school. It's all right for young children to start training in a sport, provided that they want to do it, that they take plenty of days off from training, and that their coaches and parents allow them to be children.

May 1, 2006

Checked 9/28/08

Get our newsletter