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Competitive vs. Recreational Sports

My son is turning 6 this summer, and with this milestone comes the question of competitive sports team vs. recreational classes and clinics.

I’m not sure this dilemma is a suburban thing, but here in New York City, the debate rages on. Are sports team too intense, too early? Is it too much of a time commitment? Do children need to pick one sport right away? Shouldn’t they play a variety of sports throughout their childhood before committing to one sport?

I have a daughter who is almost 9 and plays on two sports teams (different sports). One of her team is a huge commitment, and the other one is more relaxed. She’s been on the team track for two years now for both sports. She hasn’t taken classes or clinics since she was 6. As the mom of a team athlete, I understand the benefits of competitive sports, but I also know that competitive sports are not for every child, or every family.

The advantages of playing a sport on a team are as follows:

  • All the kids are committed. Unlike in a class, where some kids may decide to show up one week and not the next, the majority of team kids attend every practice every week. If they don’t, they can’t stay on the team! The expectation of perfect attendance leads to better practices, a more bonded team, and a more bonded community of parents.
  • The coaches are usually better. Most programs place their best coaches on the team and send their younger, more inexperienced coaches to teach classes. When you sign up your kids for a team, you can expect that they’ll receive the best coaching your program can offer.
  • The coaches get to know the kids. If your coach knows your child’s strengths and what they need to work on, they’ll be able to develop them as a player or athlete much better than if they just teach general skills to everyone.
  • The kids get to know one another. I can’t stress how team friendships are a huge part of my daughter’s life. She spends so much time with those girls – they’re like sisters by now! Her team is a big source of support and gives her a sense of community and belonging that she gets nowhere else.
  • Team sports foster discipline. It’s hard to be on a team. It takes dedication and effort. It sometimes means missing out on a party or an event. It often means waking up early to travel to games and meets. At times, it breaks your heart if you’re disappointed in your own performance. But the lessons you learn as an athlete are priceless. Resolve, dedication, effort and perseverance will serve you well, on a team and in life.
  • The time commitment of a team sport keeps your children occupied and out of trouble. There’s not much trouble to fear when your kids are only 6. But by the time they turn 8 or 9, gossip and cliques rear their ugly heads. I can’t even imagine what else may come up in the future. By ensuring that your kid is at practice every afternoon, or most afternoons a week, you’re making sure that between school, sports and homework, there’s not much time left for anything else.

Here are the drawbacks of joining a team:

  • The time commitment is huge. Kiss your weekend getaways good-bye as most meets (and sometimes practices) will be scheduled on Saturdays and Sundays.
  • The financial commitment is considerable. In addition to the regular fees, you’ll need to factor in uniform, equipment, meet fees, travel fees, and accommodations for the family when your athlete competes out of town.
  • You need to focus on one (or two) sports. Forget the pleasure of playing lacrosse on Monday, going to art class on Tuesday, taking ballet on Wednesday, playing soccer on Thursday, and having a playdate on Friday. It may seem like a lot of just one thing for your child, unless they really love the sport.

How will you know if joining a team is the right decision for your child? From my experience with my own children, I have a very easy answer for you.

If your child simply loves a sport… loves it to the point of doing it every day, all the time… begs you to buy books about it… has posters in their room about it… practices in the living room after coming home from regular practice… looks it up on the internet… and seems generally obsessed… then you’ll know that joining a team is the right decision for that particular child at that particular time. As long as your child loves the sport, go for it. If you see their commitment wavering over a considerable period of time, then you may want to reconsider your decision.

Tryouts generally happen in the spring (March, April or May) for the following school year. Look up the tryout dates online, sign up, and get ready for a the ride!

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