I can remember my childhood and growing up better than most people. I have an extremely good memory and I really don’t know why. I can remember most of what I did as a kid, even from a very young age. Don’t worry, this isn’t about my incredible memory skills, but rather an aspect of my childhood that I think was incredibly important.
One of the best set of memories that I have, is where we lived…no not just my home, rather the street that we lived on, and the people that lived on that street, and most importantly…what we did.
We lived next to a family that had 8 children and all were separated by one year. I happened to be the same age as the youngest of the 8 kids. There were 6 boys and 2 girls in that family, and all of them were incredibly athletic and extremely competitive. I remember spending much of my childhood playing at and around their house. We would do all kinds of active things and almost all of them involved us making up games that we could play outside. We played games that involved running, catching, throwing, tagging, climbing, shooting, riding, kicking, jumping, swimming, etc… We played tag games, whiffle ball, football, rode bikes, climbed trees, shot baskets…we had homerun derbies, fishing contests, back yard wrestling matches, we boxed, raced, built forts, and probably 100 other games and activities that I cant recall right now. We rarely sat inside and watched TV and very rarely played any kind of video games (Besides, video games only just came out, so they were less popular and not as high tech as they are today). I also remember coming home after dark, exhausted, dirty and played out. I can remember learning to compete, pushing myself to win, playing with our self made rules, and having fun. The point being is that we all were extremely physically active all day long.
What I didn’t realize until later on in life is that during that time, we were developing, and learning. We were growing physically, mentally and emotionally. We were in training without knowing it. We were in all aspects, becoming the athletes that we were born to be. We didn’t have specialized sports camps to visit, or all-in-one Sports Training Centers like we see today…our training center was outside. It didn’t matter what time of year it was either. In the winter we sledded, ice skated, and had massive snow ball fights. In the heat of the summer, we swam, played run-the-bases, tag games, and almost always stayed out until it got dark. In the fall months we traded watching football games, for playing football games. We were learning to run fast, throw a baseball accurately, and balance our bodies while being pushed out of bounds, (into the bushes that made one of our boundaries). My training partners were those 8 kids next door. My physical development in part is owed to them and the way we played. Part of my athleticism comes from those countless hours of “free play”.
There are windows of opportunities for physical development that all children must go through in order to achieve their true athletic or physical potential. Some children are involved in enough physical activity in their lives at the right times and go through these windows without even knowing it. These “lucky” kids learn by accident how to become that athlete that they were born to be. They learn how to control their body, how to compete and how to socialize with other children at a young age. Many children however are not active enough at the right times and do not go through these windows at the right times. Their physical development is halted and they never reach the true physical potential that they probably could have. This does not mean in anyway that children or any athlete for that matter can’t improve from their current level…all it means is that the windows of opportunity that these kids needed to go through at those specific and important zones of time were missed and because of that, these kids will probably never reach the development that they could have. Most will never even know that this has happened. They will assume that they are clumsy or not athletic enough.
The other side of the coin shows over zealous parents that ARE aware of these windows and try to force their children through them by signing them up for all kinds of specialized training at a very young age. While they may help their kids develop physically at the right times, I have seen many of these parents crush their children’s spirit in their attempt to do so. These kids many times become burnt out at a young age, or over specialized in one area of their development…missing the other equally important areas of physical development.
The key, in my opinion is to just let and more so these days “make” your children play. Get them toys that foster physical development, and stop buying the X-Box games. Teach them games that they can play in the yard all day long. Show them how to build forts, climb trees, run, ride bikes, and about a hundred other fun activities. Take them to the beach, or on hikes. More importantly, play these games with them. Be involved in a fun way. No pressure, but always fun. Finally, get your kids out of the house. Have a time limit on TV and their video games and then kick them outside to play. If you don’t have a yard, or live in an unsafe area, take them to the park a few times a week. Find a friend that has a yard. Make it happen. Your children will be better for it. Let your kids play for a purpose.