Let children try different sports to groom better athletes

Students from a basketball team having training at a secondary school.
Students from a basketball team having training at a secondary school.ST PHOTO: TIMOTHY DAVID

Some children in Singapore are made to specialise in one sport as early as four or five years old as sporting achievement is often seen as a passport to an elite secondary school.

With so much time and money invested in one sport, the expectations can be high.

On top of the gruelling sports training, the child is expected to do well academically too.

In the US, sports engagement is more loosely structured. The focus is on a player's overall athletic ability and well-being.

Children there are encouraged to take on a variety of sports. They rarely specialise in one sport at a very young age.

There are benefits to this. It reduces repetitive strain injuries specific to one sport. It trains up different areas of the body, making the child a more versatile athlete. And it reduces the stress to excel in one sport.

Take, for instance, the US women soccer team, this year's Fifa Women's World Cup champions.

Striker Christen Press, now 30, played tennis and did track sports in high school.

Team co-captain Alex Morgan, 30, played volleyball, softball and basketball, and did track before specialising in soccer.

Meanwhile, Swiss tennis giant Roger Federer, 37, credits his hand-eye coordination to the wide range of sports he played as a child, including badminton and basketball.

Their success stories make me want to encourage my children to try various sports.

Sports is not a zero-sum game. It does not end when one stops playing a particular sport. Instead, one gains a foundation for another sport or a character trait for life.

We need to reconsider the race to always be the best.

Priscilla Ang Ee Lin

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 22, 2019, with the headline 'Let children try different sports to groom better athletes'. Print Edition | Subscribe