What if I told you that there was the highest probability to find an NHL player’s birthday within the first 3 years of the year? A coincidence? Other sports such as the NBA have shown this too. So what gives? How could being born at a specific portion of the year benefit a child’s chances of going pro in their respective sport? Simply put, their age. Although the kids are all roughly the same age when playingin their divisions, we know there is a big difference between a child’s cognitive and motor skills when comparing even a few months. Most likely the kids that are oldest in their division will be the biggest, strongest and fastest in their group. These superior motor skills not only give them a slight advantage as a youth; but also set the course for a successful support system to have a high chance of competing at the higher levels.
When a child is told they are good at something, they tend to stick with what they are doing as part of a positive feedback loop that was developed. Keep doing the task and get more encouragement. This isn’t enough though. Kids are well aware if this is true as well. If they strike out 3 times at the plate and are told how great they are, they know better. So when they have the advantage of being oldest in their group, it is most likely that they will succeed in the sport they are playing. This tangible evidence for their success gives them the motivation to keep playing, which ultimately makes them better and better. Remember, the only connection researchers have found with great athletes is that they put in thousands of hours of purposeful practice.
Not only will the kids play more, they will get better coaching. Coaches tend to work with the kids that just “get it.” They usually call this a “talent” that other kids do not have but it’s just the fact that that child developed faster than the other kids, which allows them to stick out. This extra and more advanced coaching builds up the child even more, allowing them to surpass their peers in performance as they get older.
So What to Do With Your Child
From all of the research I have read and through my experiences with kids, it all comes down to two things. Their passion to play and the coaching they get. If the kid is not have early success in what they do (I remember I quit soccer right away because I wasn’t that good) they will more likely avoid it. This does not change for tennis so having your child have fun and see success in tennis is important. Tennis is one of the few sports where speed and strength are not as important as technique so by putting them in an environment that allows for tennis to be seen as “fun,” the more likely they will stick with it as they definitely will need a lot of hours to improve. Due to how tennis is related to technique so much, they will need to have a coach that can give them the right tools to improve. This will give them an opportunity to build good habits and ultimately more time to practice the right swings. Remember, time on task is very important for a child’s development but only if it has purpose behind it.