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Youth Boys Oct 26, 2011

Why young athletes excel with backyard play

Gary Simmons, author of “Gymbag Wisdom,” and a sports performance specialist who concentrates on teens, has some interesting anecdotes to share about the athletes he works with in high school.

The top players he deals with are not the ones who play on traveling teams. They’re not necessarily the ones who spend all their time playing on more than one formal team year-round, he says.

No, the top players, he says, are the ones who, in addition to playing on organized teams, often play in the park, the backyard or the local gym with their friends and neighbors–without parents or coaches instructing them.

And just what is it about playing with friends in informal settings that allows kids to excel?

Kids who’ve spent a lot of time playing with friends are generally quicker on their feet and more coordinated, he says. What they also have—and this is key—higher levels of “exuberance,” says Simmons. As a result, they learn skills more quickly.

The teen athletes he sees who’ve experienced a lot of structured sports and traveling teams are often burnt out, he says. They’re less exuberant and don’t push themselves as hard.

“You can be a 12-year-old state champion tennis player and give 70% in practice,” he says. “The kids who are behind you skill wise–but are moving faster and trying harder–are more likely to excel at their skill.”

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