One sport doesn't fit all

September 02, 2005|by KRISTIN WILSON

Lea Michael is a strong believer that getting middle school kids involved with sports teams and other athletic activities is critical to their development.

She should know.

About 15 years ago Michael was a sixth-grader at Springfield Middle School who was just getting excited about playing volleyball.

Today, she is the school's gym teacher and the president of the Springfield Middle School Girls Volleyball League - the program that she says greatly impacted the course of her life.

"It all attributes back to middle school," Michael says. "This was the foundation."

Seasoned coaches in the Tri-State area agree getting kids involved and excited about sports can yield positive results throughout their lives. Especially if they are interested in pursuing sports at the high school level, students should be introduced to a variety of sports and activities throughout their childhood.


"I always encourage my students, if they think they are interested in a certain thing, to try it," Michael says. "(Middle school) is the time to do it. Once they get into the high school, it's more concrete."

Mike Spinnler, president of the Cumberland Valley Athletic Club, has coached just about every level of runner.

"I'm a real big believer that (eighth-graders) and younger kids should be exposed to numerous sporting and extracurricular options on a regular rotation," he says. "Then when they get to ninth, tenth and eleventh grade, they can make a choice."

Sometimes it takes a few tries to find the sport that best matches a child's ability and interests, coaches say.

"Kids don't know what they are going to be good at," says Jaime Mason, coach for the Clear Spring High School cross-country team.

Athletic programs also can offer children and teens much more than a cardiovascular workout, instructors say.

Michael says getting on the volleyball track in middle school eased her transition into high school. She also feels that being part of a team can help build self-esteem for young girls.

Sports teams can help develop social skills like "how to solve conflict, how to handle different personalities," Michael says. "There are so many facets that you are touching on when they are in these athletic programs."

Here's some information about common fall sports and what parents can expect if their child gets involved:

Cross-country running trains kids to race at long distances often over uneven terrain, through forests, across open fields, in country areas - anything that isn't a track. Racing distances can be from one mile to 10.

Time commitment: Middle school runners can expect to practice about six hours a week, says Mike Spinnler, longtime coach and runner. That increases to about 10 hours a week as students get older and more competitive.

Cost: "It's very, very inexpensive," Spinnler says. "Most kids can wear the sneakers they are wearing in gym class right now. It's not like you have to make any investment at all, especially in the beginning."

To participate in road races or cross-country events, there is usually a fee. Such fees can range from $5 to $30 depending on the competitiveness of the event.

Kids who do well: "Distance runners need to be very goal oriented," Spinnler says. "Generally kids who tend to do very well in the classroom do well at cross-country - very motivated and disciplined kids."

Benefits: "In some sports, it's hard for a kid to see how they are doing," Spinnler says. "In cross-country, they can actually see that improvement. It's exciting and motivating."


With football being such a popular high school sport, the Tri-State area has multiple junior leagues that introduce both boys and girls to the sport, says Don Davis, president of the Washington County Junior Football League.

"Our main goal is to get these kids ready to play high school football, promote good sportsmanship and fair play," Davis says.

Time commitment: Preseason practices can take four to 10 hours a week. Once junior league games start, there are about two practices and one game a week. At the high school level, practices can last much longer.

Cost: To play football in the Washington County junior league, there is a participation fee of $45. That includes rental equipment, Davis says. Kids also must pass a doctor's physical to participate. Football becomes more expensive at the high school level as equipment becomes more important.

Kids who do well: "You definitely have to want to play this sport," Davis says. "You could be the littlest kid on the team, but, if you have the heart and the desire, that little kid is going to beat the big kid every day."

Benefits: "Football is a team sport," Davis says. "It takes the type of kid that works well with other kids. Football is a contact sport; there's no doubt about it. It's not for the weak or meek."


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