10 is not too old to begin playing lacrosse or any sport

ASK CAL

October 08, 2006|By CAL RIPKEN JR.

WE MOVED TO MARYLAND from Nebraska early this summer. Our oldest boy (10) had never played lacrosse, but wants to play this spring. When I mentioned this to a friend, she said, "You're too late. Most kids start playing when they're 5 or 6." I wasn't sure if she was kidding. I don't want him out there making a fool out of himself. Is 10 too late to start playing lacrosse for the first time?

LIZ BARRON, Cockeysville

DEAR LIZ -- I don't think that 10 years old is too late to start playing any sport. At that age, kids' bodies are still growing and kids continue to improve their motor skills. While it is true that your son's skill will be less developed than those of the kids who have been playing for several years, I'm sure that there will be plenty of kids playing lacrosse for the first time or who recently have picked up the sport.

If he really wants to play, I would recommend finding a respected, fun recreational program that will allow him to develop his skills without too much pressure. If, after a year or two, he falls in love with the sport and his skills develop, you can look for a more serious or competitive program - if that's what he wants. Don't worry. If that doesn't work, there's always baseball. The most important thing to keep in mind is that it is best to let kids dictate which activities they would like to try and at what level they want to be involved.

With so much emphasis on competitive sports at such an early age, at what age would you recommend a youth to specialize in a single sport year round?

SCOTT MEISEL, White Marsh

DEAR SCOTT -- I am a strong advocate for allowing kids to participate in as many sports as they want to - as long as they can handle it physically. Participation in different sports allows for the development of an all-around athleticism that often can't be achieved through specialization. Baseball promotes eye-hand coordination and development of the muscles necessary to throw properly, a skill that is required of most sports. Soccer helps develop balance, endurance and strong leg muscles. Basketball is great for improving lateral quickness and explosiveness, as is football, which also is an excellent sport for developing power.

Perhaps more important, participation in multiple sports helps avoid the physical and mental burnout that can develop when a young athlete spends all of his or her time focusing on one activity. As always, let the kids decide. If they want to participate in multiple sports, encourage them. If they really fall in love with one sport and want to focus only on that, let them - while being careful to monitor them for signs of burnout. There are many athletic benefits for athletes who participate in more than one sport, and those benefits can continue through high school.

Are protein shakes that you can buy in the grocery store a safe way for teens to add some bulk?

TOM REYNOLDS, Wilmington, Del.

DEAR TOM -- The best way for teens to increase their strength - which, to me, is better terminology than "adding bulk" - is to spend time with a fitness professional, such as a certified strength and conditioning coach, a certified personal trainer or a certified athletic trainer. Trained fitness professionals will be able to evaluate a kid's fitness level and develop a sport-specific or all-around strength and fitness plan tailored to his or her needs and abilities.

There are no shortcuts to developing bigger and stronger muscles. It takes a lot of hard work. Is there a product, such as a protein shake, that can help a kid reach his or her strength or fitness goals? That is a question that only a trained professional can answer. I'm sure that if there is a product that would benefit a child's training and physical development, a fitness professional would recommend it and advise the client as to its proper use. I don't feel qualified, nor do I know enough about your child in particular, to give you a "yes" or "no" answer on that topic.

Next Sunday, look for the Cal Ripken Jr. column in Sports.

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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