With care, strength training can be fine for kids


November 20, 2005|By CAL RIPKEN JR.

What is the appropriate age for children to begin a weightlifting program? I have been told that if you start too early, it may stunt their growth.

- Faye Sherman, Moorefield, W.V.

DEAR FAYE / / I was raised in an atmosphere that didn't understand the value of weight training. My Dad shared a philosophy of the day that baseball players need "long, loose muscles, not short tight muscles."

Obviously, as I got older I realized that this mindset was outdated and I, along with most everyone else, see the benefits of weight training. That being said, I would make sure that you ease your child into a program and consult your doctorfirst.

I encourage my kids to work with their own body weight. Exercises like push-ups, pull-ups and dips are difficult upper body exercises and are accessible on most playgrounds. Climbing up hills or running stairs uses your body weight to build strong leg muscles. Although my comfort level has come a long way concerning specific weight training, I am still more comfortable directing them toward those good, old military-style exercises. After all, my Dad was often referred to as a drill sergeant. I guess I'm a chip off the old block.

There are many Web sites and books on this subject, and I would encourage you to look at some of those as well. According to MayoClinic.com, The American Academy of Pediatrics, the American College of Sports Medicine and the National Strength and Conditioning Association all support strength training for kids - if it is done properly.

I coach 6th- and 7th-grade boys in a local recreational baseball league. Several of the coaches frequently try the "hidden ball trick." I think it's inappropriate for this age level as the players should learn to win on the field and not with trickery. Other coaches think that it's part of the game. What do you think?

- Jeff Hysen, Silver Spring

DEAR JEFF / / It isn't a tactic that I would employ in a kids' game, or, for that matter, in any game. It seems to me that it goes against the spirit of the game.

That being said, coaches will continue to use this and other forms of trickery to gain an advantage so it is up to you to make sure that your kids understand the importance of paying attention to the game and their surroundings.

Go ahead and use it for fun in practice. Kids, including myself, enjoy trickery in the right setting. Besides, it will also benefit your team as it naturally prepares you for those teams who like to use it in the real games.

I have an 11-year-old son who has played recreational ball since age five and now plays both spring and fall rec ball and on a travel team. Recently, he clinched a spot on a metro team. Are these the right moves for him to be making if he wants to entertain a career in baseball? Is metro the ultimate for kids his age or is there another alternative we haven't considered?

- James Hutson, Bel Air

DEAR JAMES / / From what you have described, that seems like a lot of baseball for an 11-year-old. Don't start worrying about a career in baseball just yet. It is impossible for anyone to project an 11-year old to the big leagues no matter how talented he seems to be.

Is Metro the ultimate? It depends on your kid. I think it is more important to match your son with the right skill level and to place him in the appropriate environment for him.

While he is playing, I would encourage you to watch him carefully. You don't want him to burn out and tire of the game at such a young age. It seems you have researched the leagues and teams in the area thoroughly, so go with your instinct. Don't worry about making the right decision about his long-term future in baseball.

If playing in all these leagues were necessary to make it to the big leagues, I would have never made it. Professionally speaking, I think there are two factors that really count: talent and passion. The first is genetic and the second has to come from within. Keep your fingers crossed that your son possesses the necessary talent, but spend time helping him build on his love for the game. Without that love, you'll never get the most out of your talent.

You also might want to think about playing other sports as well. It keeps them busy growing athletically without the potential for burnout, mentally or physically.

Have a question or issue arising from your involvement in youth sports? Send it by e-mail to askcal@baltimoresun.com.

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