Like millions around the world, I watched the closing ceremony for the XXII Winter Olympics in Sochi, with awe and admiration for these young and incredibly gifted athletes. World class athletes, like classical musicians and ballet dancers, have to be discovered early if their talent is to be developed properly. Debbie Phelps, mother of Olympic legend Michael Phelps, tells a story about how her son’s coach intervened to convince him to focus exclusively on swimming. Phelps was 11.
When I was 11, I was introduced to the game of tennis at the Parade Grounds in Brooklyn. That summer, I would walk or ride my bike to the courts to learn the rudiments of the game. I was even allowed to “compete” in the Junior Tennis League. Later, when I attended Erasmus Hall H.S., I could not graduate until I passed a swimming test which required you to dive, swim the length of the pool and retrieve a quarter from the pool floor. While you will never see me at the Olympics, participating in these sports has made me a healthier human being.
Sadly, decreasing opportunities for organized play is increasing obesity rates, creating “adult” health problems and negatively impacting the academic performance of our children. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has warned that one out of three children in America is obese or overweight.