In the arena of youth sports, I’ve noticed a trend which is a bit unsettling. Youth sports are becoming increasingly more competitive–causing parents, coaches and the youth themselves, to take things a little too far. AAU teams are now beginning at extremely young ages–and I’d venture to say that it’s to our detriment. According to Sam Snow, the head of the US Youth Soccer Technical Department, “…prior to the age of 12, 50% of youth training should be free play.” That is not what we are seeing in youth sports these days. We have parents and coaches who are building the idea that kids needs to specialize at an early age, without any evidence that there is real benefit.
According to research, 7 out of 10 Olympic soccer players, played multiple sports throughout high school, had far less injuries and improved their performance more so than their competitors that specialized at an early age. There are other factors which have contributed to this phenomenon–but please, don’t fall for the hype of having your kids specialize too early. Let them play as many sports they can–keeping the ones they enjoy. They should have an off season from every sport, where they can just play freely, or sample a sport they are interested in.
The main objective is that they are having fun. If they are having fun, they have a higher chance of continuing with their sport. When their sport becomes more like work, they will experience burn out and not want to continue through college or further–often times, despite them having the ability to do so. Let’s ensure that our children know that when they return home, they can relax without having to discuss practice or games, unless they bring it up. It’s important to never send the message that their performance is somehow tied to our love or treatment toward them as parents. Sports are meant to be fun, so let’s keep them that way!