– Kids and sports first class – is that right? In Tokyo, the 13-year-old is skating for gold. In Beijing, the teenager is the focus of a doping scandal. Experts warn of growth disorders.
The individual medal seemed like a formality when 15-year-old personal skater Camila Valleeva traveled to Beijing for the Winter Olympics.
But after days of uproar over a positive doping test, the teen couldn’t stand the massive public pressure: Valeeva fought back tears in her freestyle, made a mistake and lost a medal. The disturbing collapse of the young ice princess has sparked calls for a minimum age for first-class sports. The International Skating Union (ISU) now wants to vote to raise the age limit to 17. In other sports too, kids belong to the world elite. Experts warn.
Skateboard: Minimum age ‘not necessary’
The organizer of the Olympic Games, the International Olympic Committee (IOC), leaves the decision to introduce a minimum age for sports federations. Gymnasts must be at least 16 years old, and there is no minimum age for skaters. In response to the Olympics scandal, the International Olympic Committee has urged world federations to review the general minimum age in sports.
In many sports, increasing lifespan will have dire consequences. “A lot of girls are going to lose medals here,” said 14-year-old skater Lili Stuevasos. Last year, Berliner was the youngest German to compete in the Tokyo Summer Games. At that time, all women’s medals were awarded to teenagers – in street discipline, gold and silver medals went to two 13-year-olds.
“I don’t think a minimum age is necessary for us,” said Steviacius. Although she feels that the age limit debate makes sense, a distinction must be made between the different types of sports. Skateboarding is relatively less regulated and is practiced with less stress. “There’s no starkly competitive atmosphere,” said Stoephasius. “We enjoy and support each other. I wasn’t under any pressure.”
The German Roller and Line Sports Federation (DRIV) provides her with a “Sports Psychology Staff” so that she can meet all the requirements. In addition, Stoephasius receives media training. Sebastian Barabas, DRIV’s competitive ski sports advisor, said the teen’s participation in a top-tier sport is justified.
Warning about young high-performance machines
Jens Kleinert of the German Sports University Cologne advocates a minimum age in first-class sports and proposes a “first orientation” at a maximum age of 16. “Under that, the risk of psychological overload is simply too great,” said the professor of sports and health psychology. Usually large training volumes carry the risk, said Kleinert, that “in addition to athletic development, other development steps will be delayed. For example, developing friendships.”
In addition, high training loads associated with repeated failures and frustrations may have a lasting effect on personality development. “Sleep, recovery, eating habits and other important components of life can be affected,” the expert explained.
However, participating in top-tier sporting events for kids doesn’t have to be “mental hell,” Reynders explained. Participation can certainly have “positively meaningful” elements for young talent. This always applies when the adolescent’s entire environment communicates the following: “Competitive sport is positive recognition.” The educator said it becomes a problem when parents and association officials do not focus on the well-being of the aspiring youth.
Figure skating association can set a signal
The decision of the World Figure Skating Association, which wants to vote on a gradual increase in the minimum age to 17 at its annual conference in Phuket starting on Sunday, may have a positive impact on other associations. As indicated in the draft Congressional Agenda, the ISU Council’s proposal is to “protect the physical, mental, and emotional well-being of runners.”
In addition to the International Olympic Committee, the German Ski Federation (DEU) also supports this initiative. “This will achieve our goal of preparing our athletes for the highest challenges with greater foresight and a long-term perspective,” said Claudia Pfeiffer, Munich-based sporting director of the federation.
The educational world appeals primarily to the media, families and associations. “What does child participation bring us? And what does it bring to the child? If we find more honest answers to the first question than to the second question, it is no longer about the athlete and the athlete, but about outside interests,” Reynders said. This is a “deep red” signal.