Network News

X My Profile
View More Activity

Posted at 12:42 PM ET, 02/18/2010

Should 10-year-old train hard for Olympics?

By Valerie Strauss

Is it harmful or fantastic that a 10-year old Pennsylvania boy trains for hours most days every week and makes two five-hour round-trips to work out with an expert in the greater Washington area?

My colleague Lenny Bernstein wrote about Aaron Heo in his Misfits column, and readers are responding with different takes on the boy’s life.

Some think it is ridiculous to allow a boy so young to spend his childhood hyper-focused on training to become an Olympic athlete. They say that no 10-year-old can know what he wants at such an early age and that kids should have many experiences before diving into one thing.

Others argue that there are extraordinary kids who do have a clear vision and that there is no reason not to go all out in pursuit of a goal. After all, how many kids waste their spare time sitting in front of a computer screen playing video games and watching television? Isn’t this better? In his book “Outliers,” author Malcolm Gladwell makes a case that it is not natural genius but many hours practicing a skill that make someone successful.

Some people are born with an extraordinary ability to do something that no amount of practice can match--but that doesn’t mean one is more likely to be successful than another. Practice does matter.

In fact, Olympic snowboarding champion Shaun White grew up in a sports-oriented family and began fearlessly skiing at the age of 4. By 7 he had entered his first snowboard contest and won, sending him to the nationals. He earned a sponsorship deal and turned pro at 13. The rest is history. Is anyone shouting that White's parents should not have allowed him to pursue his snowboarding dreams?

That said, I think pushing young bodies to the limits of physical endurance leaves many open to injuries that can have lifelong repercussions. That, presumably, is part of the reason why some Olympic sports have age limits at which kids can compete. In gymnastics, for example, competitors are supposed to be at least 16; divers and bobsledders at least 14.

Nobody, of course, can stop them from training early, except their families. Aaron's family is very supportive of his training regime.

What Aaron’s parents are doing seems to me an extreme version of super-sports oriented families whose kids are playing some sport every weekend day and practicing every weekday.

I know kids who have broken the same hand three times before they are 15 playing sports, and their doctors have told them they will feel the consequences in the form of arthritis at a younger age than they should.

Is it too much for most kids? Yes. Should there be room for those driven kids to do more than most? Why not?

Read the story here. What do you think?


Follow my blog all day, every day by bookmarking And for admissions advice, college news and links to campus papers, please check out our new Higher Education page at it!

By Valerie Strauss  | February 18, 2010; 12:42 PM ET
Tags:  olympics  
Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   StumbleUpon   Technorati   Google Buzz   Previous: President Ken Starr? Yes, at Baylor
Next: Data-driven gobbledygook from Ed Dept


Very few argue that a 10-year-old musical prodigy should not be practicing long hours and making long trips to perform. The reasons we question children training hard at athletics are 1) the possibility of injuries before they are old enough to evaluate the risk properly and 2)deep down, we really don't think athletics has much value. This may be right or wrong--personally, I think anyone who likes physical activity to that extent needs a psychiatrist!--but let's debate the basic question of whether professional sports and the Olympics are worthwhile at all, not whether some people should spend more time than others getting ready for them.

Posted by: sideswiththekids | February 19, 2010 1:00 PM | Report abuse

The comments to this entry are closed.

RSS Feed
Subscribe to The Post

© 2010 The Washington Post Company