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Questions for the Expert

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Questions:

  1. My son, age 9, really loves baseball, but he refuses to practice. I know he could improve his skills with more practice time. How can I convince him to practice with me or a friend?
  2. How much conditioning is safe for 12 year-olds? My daughter’s softball coach makes the team do wind-sprints and suicides every day during practice no matter how hot it is outside. My daughter comes home spent and exhausted. What level of conditioning is safe for kids at this age?

Answers:

This is a great question, but before answering, I have a question for you. Who wants to improve your son’s skills? Has he expressed an interest or desire to get better? If the desire to improve does not come from him, you may run into a real struggle. If you have a 9-year-old boy who loves to play, I would continue to support that love. If he works on his skill development but doesn’t enjoy the training experience, not only will he fail to improve, he will discontinue playing. The current youth sports culture is feeding our generation to push our children to excel at younger and younger ages. Certainly, there is nothing wrong with practice to improve one’s skills. There are kids that practice, but the key is that the motivation comes from the child, not the parent. That drive to improve can develop in our children, ideally in a natural setting. For example, a coach inspires him, or he wants to keep up with his peers. Many parents share this struggle because they see potential in their children and they even have good suggestions about how their child can improve. Our best bet is to find good coaches and teams where their friends play. And, listen for the moment when they express frustration about their sport, at which point, you then may have an opportunity to ask them what they want to do to make their experience more enjoyable. Extra practice may be one of those options, but playing a different sport or finding a new team could be other options. In the years to come, our kids will face tryouts, cuts, playing time, etc. At those junctures, we will begin to see what their motivation is to improve and we can serve as supportive guides as they consider their options.

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Dr. Richard Ginsburg
Dr. Richard D. Ginsburg is a clinical psychologist and sport psychology consultant. He is co-director of the Massachusetts General Hospital PACES Institute of Sport Psychology and is an assistant professor of psychology at Harvard Medical School. Dr. Ginsburg also serves as staff psychologist in the Newton Wellesley Hospital Child and Adolescent Psychiatry Department and is the director of Behavioral Health for the Boston Red Sox. Dr. Ginsburg offers a broad range of clinical services to children, adolescents and adults and conducts youth and professional sport research. He is author of the book, Whose Game Is It, Anyway, A guide to helping your child get the most from sports, organized by age and stage and has served as a sport psychology consultant for a variety of professional and college-level sports teams, including lacrosse, soccer, water polo and ice hockey at Harvard University. He is a member of the US Lacrosse Safety and Science Committee and provides talks and consultations nationally to youth, high school, and collegiate athletic programs. Dr. Ginsburg played lacrosse and soccer at Kenyon College, where he won all-conference and all-Midwest honors. He is also a former independent school teacher and coach. He lives with his wife, Teri, and their two children in Newton, Massachusetts.