If you have paid close attention through the years, you might remember that I had three rules for my kids when they were growing up. We would often recite those on the way into school in the mornings. I can remember pulling in to Ft. Craig School and together reciting those rules.

Be good. Be smart. Play something. I want to focus on that “playing something” today.

Tennessee is one of the most obese states in America. Our kids are obese. Our adults are obese. You can read all kind of statistics, but the consensus appears to be that about half of Tennesseans are significantly overweight.

We also know that active children become active adults. A sedentary lifestyle begins young and begins at home. Get home, have dinner, settle down in front of the TV or computer. That seems too often to be the American way. A better way is to get out and do something.

Walk around the neighborhood. Shoot hoops in the driveway. Go to the park. Ride bikes. Just move. It doesn’t have to be sports or part of a team or anything like that.

Let’s go back to that parks thing. We have great parks around here. Our community is laced with Greenway trails. You don’t have to go far to find one. We have parks with basketball courts and parks with wide open spaces. Tennis courts and softball fields. We have pavilions and picnic tables everywhere. You can even drop in at our library, which is found mere feet from one of the Greenway trails and our beautiful downtown lake. One of the amazing things about the Greenway trail is that you can go for miles with very few road crossings. The planners did an awesome job.

Let’s talk about sports a bit. One of the most obvious ways for our kids to stay active is to play sports. There are leagues or organizations for just about everything: Basketball, football, flag football, soccer, softball, baseball, gymnastics, swimming, volleyball, wrestling and on and on.

My personal parenting advice was to play everything. Dr. Jim Andrews — probably the most renowned sports orthopedist in the world — argues strongly against sports specialization for kids. Playing just one sport at an early age is just a bad idea. Kids don’t develop the all-round athleticism that will serve them as they get older.

There are three arguments here. One is that athleticism thing. I’ve said it before that my son loved gymnastics at an early age and that it was the balance beam that he enjoyed the most.

The balance beam is a girl’s event, but you will never convince me that part of his balance and athleticism didn’t come from that. The second is that there is no way that you will know what sport your child is most suited for at a young age. You’ve got to let them play different things until either their passion or their body dictates focusing on one or two sports.

My son was always going to be a football player. His body dictated it. He loved basketball but after quitting basketball his junior year in high school he put on 30 pounds of muscle and made himself into a Division 1 football player. My daughter discovered volleyball as a high school sophomore almost by accident but then discovered that she not only loved it but that she was good at it. She also went on to a successful college career in volleyball. The third point is that early sports specialization leads to an increase in injuries. Young bodies need different movement patterns to properly develop.

They need to run, kick, throw, jump … move! Research clearly shows that avoiding sports specialization early on definitely decreases injuries.

So remember rule three: Play something.

Joe Black, PT, DPT, SCS, ATC is a physical therapist and athletic trainer at Total Rehabilitation and is Manager of Outpatient Rehabilitation for Blount Memorial Hospital. Email joe blackdpt@gmail.com to write to him.

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