Evaluating Youth Sports

When trying to choose one of the many youth sports for your child, there are many considerations to evaluate. Look closely at the pros and cons of each sport and see which one works best with your child’s strengths and interests. 

The evaluation factors below are based on my experiences as a parent and a coach, but I would encourage you to gather as much information as you can to find the best sport for your child.

There are positive aspects to all youth sports and activities, but the real gauge would be the happiness and growth of your child.

Here are just a few factors to consider when evaluating youth sports for your child:

  • Playing Time
    There are many youth sports today in which not all players get to actually play. If the sport has a “bench”, it means some players will be sitting on it instead of playing. Many coaches will make it a priority to even out playing time so that everyone has an equal turn. Unfortunately, most coaches will put only their best players on the field or court. This is especially true as your child gets older and the games get more competitive. Sports like soccer and hockey can have frequent substitutions. This helps some of the bench players see playing time. But sports like football, basketball, and baseball will usually go with their starting squad and some players on the bench will see zero playing time. Look at your local youth sports program and what the team sizes are and what the coach’s philosophy is. This information can help you predict the kind of playing time your child may or may not get.
  • Pattern of Exclusion
    My kids love to play baseball, and as a parent it’s a fun sport to watch. But it’s apparent that there’s a pattern of exclusion. As the kids get older, the opportunities get fewer. For example, in T-ball every player bats every inning and everyone is rotated through various field positions. The rules of baseball are introduced, but they are a secondary learning objective to the basic fundamentals and just having fun. As the kids get older, the leagues become more competitive and most kids get locked into their positions. And by the time kids go into high school, there’s one first baseman job available and 30 kids that want it. This is life…but it’s worth knowing as you get your kids into sports as an early age. If there passion is baseball, nurture it and encourage the practice and dedication that it takes to get better. If they are doing sports for recreation and social motives, these sports can have devastating affects on those that they exclude. Sports like cross-country, track, swimming, and wrestling rarely cut any of their players…if you can endure the practices everyone usually makes the team.
  • Cardiovascular Exercise
    With the child obesity epidemic, youth sports are being encouraged more and more as a means for kids to get active. But not all sports are created equal is this respect. Sports that involve a lot of running and continuous movement for 20-30 minutes will have lasting positive effects for your child. Sports that have spurts of movement largely surrounded by rest will not have the same benefits. If one of your goals is for your child to slim down, look at sports like soccer, running, and swimming. They offer much more cardiovascular exercise than many of the other sports.
  • Injuries
    Every youth sport carries some risk of injury. And one of the best ways to reduce the risk of injury is to ensure that your child gets enough rest. If you have them enrolled in three leagues for the same sport, you are increasing their chance of getting an injury due to overuse. It’s also no surprise that contact sports lead the list with the most injuries. Sports like football, basketball and hockey will have the most crutches, arm slings, and casts on their sidelines. Head injuries are also a lot more common with the contact sports and a growing concern with youths.  Sports are a lot of fun and that should ultimately be the motive for your decision, but it’s a lot less fun when an injury prevents you from playing for the season…or even longer. Keep that in mind as one of the factors when evaluating youth sports for your kids.

The above factors are from a parental-perspective and are often hard to sell to a child. Looking at my children, I often find that their evaluation factors for sports are a bit different. They look at…

  • What sports are my friends in?
  • What do the uniforms look like?
  • Are there rewards involved? (trophies, medals, plaques,,,)
  • Is it fun?

These factors are important and can be used to help spark their interest in joining a sport. I’ve found that many kids join sports to be with their friends. If you’re having trouble getting your child interested in any sports, try talking to some other parents and getting a few friends involved. Take them to a game or meet so that they can see the excitement. Children, like ourselves, need motivation! Find out what makes them tick, and use it.

In summary, the key element in your decision of should be the happiness and overall benefit to your child…and this decision will vary from child to child and from household to household.

I’m a runner and have had such good experiences with my grade school and high school teams that I advocate youth running to all who will listen. But that’s just me…and I’m just one opinion.

It’s great that you care enough about your child to look into it. Get them involved in a variety of youth sports and activities and watch the many positive affects it brings into their lives.

Have fun!

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