Disclaimer :: This article contains sponsored content provided by i9 Sports.
Making the decision to put your child in youth sports is usually an easy decision. Many people understand the benefits of playing sports, but at some point, we are all faced with the decision of when to take the next step and “get serious” about it and play competitive sports. Whether it’s your child’s idea or you encouraging him or her down that path, it’s the timing and execution that makes all the difference!
Kids develop differently both mentally and physically, but research and attentive parenting can help us make informed decisions that can lead to successful sports experiences. Let’s look at two kids and see which one is ready to compete.
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Sally :: Young and Athletic
Sally, who is eight years old, is big for her age and really outshines her teammates on the soccer field. She has a natural athletic ability, but she gets upset every time her team loses or if she has a bad game.
Often, parents of kids like Sally think that because she is skilled, bigger, and competitive that she needs be in a higher level and take her out of recreational sports. With the right approach, this can work, but often it leads to burnout and injury issues.
Burnout because winning is more of a focus in competitive leagues, and Sally never really learned to just play to have fun or learned how to lose properly.
Recommendation: If a change is needed, move her up a division within a recreational program. The focus is still on fun and development, but the move up will place her with kids her size and average skill level. This will also give her time to develop mentally on how to deal with mistakes, losing, and not being the dominant player.
Lessons like perseverance, dedication, hard work, and sportsmanship are invaluable for her to learn.
No matter what you choose (recreation or competition) having her play various recreational sports (outside of soccer) will limit burnout and overuse injuries.
Robert :: Average Size, Big on Talent
Robert is 12 years old. He is average in size and above average in skill on the basketball court. He has already played a few years, and his game has progressed a little each season. He works hard when he plays. Win or lose — he looks forward to playing.
If Robert and the parents are happy with the type of competition in recreational sports, that is great! The longer Robert can enjoy the game and just have fun the better.
But if Robert is ready to move up, this is a good age to make that move for two reasons:
- Robert has a strong mental foundation and love for the game, which lend well to facing adversity and dedicating himself to improving his skill. He has learned how to win and lose and has a good understanding of the fundamentals of the game from his experience.
- Physically Robert is at the right age where his body can handle an increase in workload and improve/develop technical skills. He may be behind when he starts because of the kids who have been at this level for longer, but with the right coach, he should quickly move up the ranks on the team. (The only concern at this age is growth spurts. Any time kids go through growth spurts, the risk of injury increases by 30 percent. During these times, limit overplaying. Allow for two to three days of rest after each strenuous day of playing.)
Recommendation: Do your research on a program. Find a good coach by talking to peers and visiting programs. The philosophy and impact of a coach are so important and can have a large impact on a player. Watching a coach in action will teach you a lot about how your child would fit with him and the team. Give them up to three seasons in the program to allow for adjustment and development to make an impact and continue to play other recreational sports.
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Playing multiple sports throughout the year (not at the same time) can increase athleticism, limit overuse injuries, keep sports fun, and increase confidence.
If you are thinking your child is neither a Sally or a Robert — what do I do? Here are some general tips:
- Whatever you choose (competitive or recreation), continue to play multiple sports for as long as possible. If you play competitive soccer in spring and fall, then play basketball and flag-football during the winter and summer. Or take a season off completely.
- Based on a study by Michigan University in 2008, they recommend that all kids should play multiple sports for fun and to train, until age 12.
- I would err on the side of recreation. Moving up a division in a recreational league before moving to a competitive program is a good first step.
- How mentally prepared is your child for the stress of competition? How do they process losing, making mistakes, or general stress? You can always coach skill and technique, but mental development is tough to coach and typically comes with experience and age.
- Talk to your coach or teacher about what they would recommend. Often as parents, we see with “love blinders” and having an outside perspective can help.
- Know that no matter what you choose, your support and encouragement must never falter. Your child can enjoy any situation when they are supported for their effort and attitude over their performance and the outcome of the game.
Of course, there are always outliers in every situation. Some kids start early with no issues, some kids start late and still burn out. You know your child best, but hopefully, this gave you a new perspective or some ideas on this decision.
For more information, parents can reach out to Isaiah Rojas or visit www.i9sports.com. i9 Sports is the nation’s largest youth sports franchise and your local option for fun, safe, inclusive, sportsmanship-focused, and convenient youth sports. It offers recreational leagues, instructional clinics, and fun camps for all kids ages three to 14 in soccer, basketball, flag football, baseball, volleyball, and tennis. With programs operating in Frisco, Little Elm, Prosper, and Plano, there is a new program starting near you soon. Just register online at www.i9sports.com and use code i9fun to save $10!