Two weeks ago, my twins had their first soccer game of the season. Afterwards, we shook hands with the opponents and hustled to our minivan to make our way to the YMCA for their last basketball game of the season.
Two different sports in one Saturday morning. Our family has entered the fray of youth sports.
Personally, I couldn’t be more excited – did I mention I coached both of their teams?! But I’m also a bit unsure of how we’ll navigate what’s ahead.
The Wall Street Journal had an interesting article on youth sports this week. The title, ‘Participation Trophies Are A Fake Crisis…’ The problem, it states, isn’t in too much hardware, but in too little fun and too much travel. Participation across sports in community rec leagues are all down. Travel leagues and specialization are up and happen too soon and too much.
Yes, my sons received a trophy after their last basketball game of the season. I didn’t love it – but they sure enjoyed getting their first trophy.
Theresa and I come from vastly different athletic upbringings. Travel sports weren’t nearly as popular during our childhoods. When I was in the 4th or 5th grade, we finally formed our own team. My dad coached and we practiced in a tiny gym on the third floor of our church. I remember begging my dad to schedule more games or tournaments. There wasn’t much happening, but we’d find random opponents at small schools in the area and play in a few tournaments a couple hours away in the Chicago area or neighboring Indiana. Much of my foundation was on the toned-down ‘traveling circuit’ during my grade school and middle school years.
Theresa, on the other hand, became a player almost entirely on her driveway at home and a few local gyms. She and her three siblings all played college basketball and scored far more points than I could’ve dreamed of. One of her brothers even played in the 2016 Olympics with the Australian National Team. The majority of their development was at home, on their driveway.
This isn’t to say one approach is better than the other – and there’s a lot more to it than pitting your driveway against the travel leagues. Every child and every family is different. We all have different priorities and different abilities and different interests and different resources.
I know families who’ve moved across the country to put their child in a better position for their athletic development – and I think it was a good move for them. I know plenty of other families who move their weekly schedule around to accommodate their kid’s sports schedule – and I think it’s detrimental to all.
Can rec leagues be too accommodating at times? For sure. Can travel leagues be too demanding at times? Of course. Can early specialization have unintended consequences? Yes.
I’ll finish with one piece of advice and one question for you.
Advice: Having fun is a competitive advantage. This is a long game. If your son/daughter is going to eventually play at the college or professional level, it’s a long road ahead and one filled with plenty of ups and downs. I know it sounds elementary and recreational, but enjoying it is the most important thing. Yes, they’ll need to learn how to work hard and persevere, but developing a love for what they’re doing will make the ‘work’ often feel like play.
Question: Help me! What insight and thoughts do you have for me? As a dad and family that’s just dipping our toe into youth sports, I welcome anything you got for me. Let me know!
Keep leading 👊🏼.