The Whys and Hows of Youth Athletics

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Parents should have realistic expectations when getting their kids involved in sports. (Getty Images)

Smithtown’s Rob Pannell, one of the country’s most talented lacrosse players, is the type of hometown hero that gives parents hope of their young child later going pro — but he didn’t truly develop until the end of high school.

Many parents question when it’s the right to get their own kids involved in sports and how serious they should be committing to a specific sport and the potential of a college career. The answers to these are simple in the eyes of Long Island sports experts.

“There’s an advantage to being a late bloomer,” says Pannell’s uncle, Jim Metzger, CEO of Whitmore, a leading insurance brokerage on Long Island, who was scoring goals as an All American lacrosse player at Hofstra University from 1979 to 1980 prior to his days of scoring major insurance deals. “They certainly seem hungrier in athletics and the future.”

Long Island-based trainers suggest diversifying their skillset for the best results.

“Kids should be playing multiple sports up until the age of 16 at the minimum,” says trainer Marc Bucellato, who heads the soon-to-be franchised On The Marc Training out of Great Neck.

Using the examples of baseball and hockey, he says that the two sports compliment hand eye coordination that an athlete wouldn’t learn by playing one sport exclusively.

“When we have kids do the ladder drill we can immediately tell if they played multiple sports or if they specialized in one,” Bucellato says.

John Dunlop, who runs Woke Athletic and Fitness Training in Syosset is a firm believer that kids who are pushed into specializing in a single sport are more prone to injury.

“I think this is why injuries like ACL tears are more common in young athletes,” Dunlop says adding that being a versatile, multi sport athlete enhances lateral and gross motor skills, which help prevent that kind of season ending injury.

What will likely come as a breath of fresh air to parents of young athletes, the focus should remain on fun and enjoyment according to Bucellato and Dunlop.

“When you’re not having fun you burnout, plain and simple,” Dunlop says giving the advice that parents shouldn’t overcomplicate a child’s athletic career and development. “It doesn’t matter if your kid is slow at age 11, that won’t be the case at age 16,” he says.

Parents have even asked Bucellato what kind of protein powders are best suited for their child, to which he responds ‘just have them eat a lot and drink chocolate milk.’

Those primed for a longtime athletic career, the coaches and teams will find at the right age. Until then, they should just have fun and work hard, the trainers advise.

And for those that don’t go pro, there are still valuable lessons that can set a young athlete up for success later in life.

“Everything I learned in business I learned on the sports field,” says Metzger, whose two seasons with the then-Flying Dutchmen off Hempstead Turnpike taught him the reward that comes from “discipline, dedication, and desire” on the field firsthand.

“The way I relied on my teammates then is the way I rely on my colleagues in business now,” Metzger says, mentioning that human capital is his business’ greatest asset.

Another life lesson from sports that Metzger preaches is the value in failure. Using the analogy that even baseball’s best hitters walked back to the dugout empty handed, Metzger says he’s learned more from losing than he has from victories.

“There’s seeds of opportunity in failure and it’s at those time when you truly know who you are,” he says.

Backing up that sentiment of character through sport, Metzger spent June 6 back at his old school, Half Hollow Hills High School, prior handing out outstanding player awards for lacrosse.

“The team didn’t have the greatest season, which is why I especially wanted to talk to the players and parents to explain that the record doesn’t matter in a few years, but the values these athletes are learning will,” the All American businessman says.

It’s for those reasons and many others that when Metzger sees a potential new hire mention team sports on a resume it jumps off the page.