The recent Easter break gave me the time to read Steven Adams' book My Life, My Fight – if you get the chance to have a read, please take it, as it is very, very good.
There are some excellent messages that he sends from lessons he has learnt along his amazing life journey so far, which I thought would be good to share in support of my recent article on team sport.
Some of the key ones were directly in support of the themes from that article, namely that all young people will benefit from playing a team sport and that you do not need to be playing a sport from an early age to end up excelling at it.
Adams says that, "if you are reading this and you have kids, please sign them up to play at least one team sport. Spending time with friends who share a common passion and goal was crucial to my development, both as a player and as an empathetic person".
He also alludes to the fact that he did not start playing basketball competitively until he was 13 or 14. Yes, he might have mucked around at home with his 13 siblings using the backboard that his father erected at their Rotorua home, but he didn't even begin to learn the skills of the game until he moved to Wellington as a teenager following his father's death.
And yet look where he is now – earning $25 million a year living his dream with the Oklahoma City Thunder in the white-hot atmosphere of the NBA in the United States.
The fact is, you simply cannot predict who is going to be a high performing athlete below the age of 13 or 14 (if even at that age). Trying to do so will give false expectations on how good these young athletes are and therefore will not be in their best interests (or the sport they play).
He also admits that, "while I was focusing on my basketball, I still tried to play other sports as much as possible. Experts used to say that kids had to choose their one sport as early as possible and stick to it. But my time playing rugby and doing athletics was only ever beneficial to my basketball, so while I was training hard out for basketball, I was also learning how to throw the shot put".
Sport NZ has similar thinking, debunking the following three myths in their talent plan:
Early specialisation is good
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Conventional wisdom says that the earlier athletes focus on their chosen sport, the better. In fact, earlier is not necessarily better. Burn-out, over-use, injuries and declining motivation are the more likely outcomes.
When young people have diverse sporting experiences, they develop transferable skills, greater creativity and better decision-making capabilities.
Childhood success leads to adult success
Conventional wisdom says that talent can be identified early. Again, it isn't necessarily so. It's true that some athletes' gifts are obvious from childhood, but every athlete is different and progress is non-linear. Some only develop and emerge much later. How someone performs at a young age is not a reliable predictor of their future potential.
Successful athletes focus on winning
Conventional wisdom says that you get what you think about, so think about winning. In fact, the most successful athletes, teams and coaches don't focus on winning at all.
Instead, they focus on their development: how well they perform. And they regard winning as an inevitable outcome of being the best they can be.
If we can get more of our children under 12 trying more sports and developing a broad base of skills, then by the time they get to the age where they need to choose which one they are best at, they are certainly likely to be better placed to succeed in that chosen sport.
And they will have less pressure on them to succeed, which we can all do without!