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Dr Elsa Kristiansen said: news

Sport: Champions start with having fun

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Keeping sport fun for children is key to sporting success later in life.

This is a philosophy that has paid off handsomely for Norway.

Dr Elsa Kristiansen said: 'Like Singapore, we have very few people so when you see a good talent, you need to nurture the talent, but it's important that they have fun in the process.'PHOTO: COURTESY OF LESLIE TANDr Elsa Kristiansen said: "Like Singapore, we have very few people so when you see a good talent, you need to nurture the talent, but it's important that they have fun in the process."PHOTO: COURTESY OF LESLIE TAN

At last year's Winter Olympics, the country of only 5.3 million people - a population size smaller than Singapore - set a new record for the total medal tally at the Pyeongchang Games with 39.

It was two clear of the United States' previous record of 37 medals at Vancouver in 2010.

In the Nordic nation, sporting talent is nurtured carefully to reduce the attrition rate of athletes.

Sport is kept fun by ensuring these youngsters focus on enjoying the action and not just winning. This is achieved because youth sports teams cannot keep score till the athletes are 13, thus reducing the pressure kids experience.

They are also not allowed to participate in international competitions until they are teenagers.

Dr Elsa Kristiansen, a professor of management at the University of South-Eastern Norway, said: "Like Singapore, we have very few people so when you see a good talent, you need to nurture the talent, but it's important that they have fun in the process.

"It's the best thing to have some sort of enjoyment in it. The pressure starts later."

Kristiansen was speaking at the National Youth Sports Institute's Youth Athlete Development Conference yesterday at Level Up.

She also attributed part of the country's success to Olympiatoppen, an organisation of scientists, trainers and nutritionists who work with Olympic athletes across Norway's sports federations.

Four-time Fifa World Cup winner Germany's approach to developing its talents is slightly different, but it is still one that has a love for sport as a tenet. With over 80,000 sports clubs scattered across the country, Germans are encouraged to play multiple sports from a young age.

The sports clubs often have several departments for various sports, leaving children with many options. For instance, Bayern Munich, most famously known for its professional football club, also has other sports departments for basketball, bowling, chess, handball and table tennis.

One key argument Dr Arne Gullich, head of department of sports science and director of institute of applied sport science at the Kaiserslautern University of Technology, put forward is that playing multiple sports reduces the risk of injury later on.

"Athletes who played various sports during childhood and adolescence are less likely to get overuse injuries in later years," he said.

Gullich, another speaker at the conference, also believes talent identification programmes are unreliable and unnecessary.

Instead, he feels exposing youths to competitions for various sports would be better for grooming and spotting future talents than by getting kids to specialise in certain disciplines at an early age.

"Generally, speeding up too much has risks. People need time to mature in terms of character, personality and biology. Children whose development is sped up too early or overpaced, have an increased risk to injury and an increased risk of dropout," he said.

"It's just about doing it in an authentic way with mentors, specialised coaches, with peers from that sport, and competitions."

 

Source: The Straits Times © Singapore Press Holdings Limited. Permission required for reproduction