Almost like clockwork, at the beginning of every sports season I hear stories from my clients that their kids or grandkids are either the best or the worst on their team. I also hear about all of the stress encountered by families when their kid — or kids — try out for whatever all-star team or traveling team.
Folks, we're talking about eight and nine year old kids here.
Does this scenario sound familiar to you?
I'm here to tell you that none of this matters. Things have gotten crazy out there. The over-emphasis at low and mid-level youth sports has gotten out of hand, as have parental expectations. Kids are being put into competitive situations and leagues way before they should be. With very few exceptions, there is no reason for kids to start playing organized sports before they are in third grade.
It's tough to ignore the pressure to sign up your pre-schoolerfor tee-ball or for "squirts soccer;" I know, I ignored my instincts and signed up my son for tee-ball last year. But you and your little kids will be much better off if you opt for swim lessons or an introductory course to tumbling or gymnastics than by being involved in a team sport in a league setting.
If your kid wants to play a sport at an early age, look for a once a week activity that is designed to be introductory and educational in nature. And never, ever should a kid participate in more than one sport at a time, or play one sport exclusively throughout the year. Remember, you're the parent and you know best.
What a kid does as a third-grader, in their last year of Little League, or even during their freshman year in high school isn't necessarily indicative of anything other than what they accomplished in that given year.
Accomplishments at any level of competition can be indicators of things to come - both good and not so good - but there is no such thing as a sure thing. Kids mature at such different rates that in most sports early success really doesn't mean all that much, as this year's benchwarmer can be next year's key player. On the other side of the coin is the kid who was the best player on the team one year but struggles to make the team the next. This is just the way things happen with young kids and athletics. And just wait until high school when guys and gals discover the opposite sex - distractions times a thousand!
If your kid is the best, support and be proud of them, just as you would if they weren't the best! But temper your excitement - or disappointment - as things can change in a flash. If sports are important to your kids, encourage them to work hard and have fun and the rest will take care of itself.
Hard work and a positive attitude are as important to a young athlete's success and development as is their natural ability. The downside of placing too much importance on early athletic success is when a kid can't live up to what are often unrealistic expectations. Remember we aren't talking about high school or college athletes.
I can offer up dozens of examples from my personal experience of kids who dominated youth leagues yet faded, or didn't even participate, in high school sports. This happens with the change of every season. I can also tell you about high school kids who didn't look like they'd ever be able to step on a varsity playing field, but who wound up making all-conference and who played - and made a difference - in a state championship game.
The positive lessons that can be learned from competing in sports are obscured when unrealistic expectations and the pressure to succeed are put upon a kid, which can actually set them up for failure. So don't push your kids when they are competing at the youth sport level, but support them and encourage them to work hard as they develop as athletes and as people.