In a recent piece on CNN, Extreme Parenting: Toddler Fitness, reporter Christine Romans highlights a trend in Grand Rapids, Michigan toward basic sports training for toddlers. The program is run by Doreen Bolhuis through her company Gymco sports. As Doreen puts it, "We would not leave academic education to chance and hope that children figure it out. We cannot leave physical literacy education to chance."
According to Romans, Doreen's goal is to "get kids moving earlier than ever before," certainly a worthwhile objective based on the continued sedentary lifestyles and obesity rates of our younger population today.
However, there are some with concerns such as Dr. Dennis Cardone, D.O. (Associate Professor at NYU Medical) who discusses the increase in overuse injuries in children that were once "exclusive" to adults. Dr. Cardone's recommendation is for "unstructured activity" over coach and/or parent-structured sports. He goes on to state that "It's not until you introduce a parent or a coach into the activity that it leads to these overuse type injuries."
Even though I do see Dr. Cardone's point as having solid merit, I do not believe it to be an absolute. The key, at these very young ages, is in "how" the activity is delivered, unstructured vs. semi-unstructured vs. single-motion repetitiveness, and the well-roundedness of the activity (or activities) as a whole. And, of course, this is all in concert with the fun and enjoyment that should accompany a young person's sports participation - that is, regardless of parent/coach involvement or not.
In other words, parental encouragement to participate in a variety of physical movements, sports, and/or activities would be much preferred over concentrated sports-specific training when kids are of toddler age.
In fact, even when a youth reaches a stage where they themselves narrow their focus in sports, training should be all-encompassing. What this means is that strong consideration needs to be given to training all areas of the body so as to minimize physical imbalances. The interconnectedness of physical movement necessitates such, if one wants to reduce the risk of injury.
So then, the question still remains whether Doreen Bolhuis' approach to training toddlers has many more positive benefits than risks or if it falls into the category of too much too soon.
On the one hand you have a generation, maybe generations, of youth heading down a path toward almost certain obesity and poorer quality of life, a path our society has been on for quite some time, while on the other, overuse injuries are increasing at an alarming rate. An interesting contradiction of circumstance don't you think?
Take a look at the CNN piece yourself and see if it helps you determine which side of the fence you fall on: