Picking a Youth Sports League thats Right for You

As a sports parent, it’s important that you take the time needed to responsibly decide what type of sport league makes the most sense for your child.  For some families, signing on with an intense travel league makes sense, while other families will find a recreational league to better commensurate with their child’s interests and abilities.  The reality these days is that “one size doesn’t fit all” when it comes to youth sports (Sport Success 360).

In the “old days” youth sports were pretty much a one stop shop for families, meaning there were not a lot of choices pertaining to the intensity and duration of a sports season.  Today, however, a youth sport experience can range from a handful of games (recreational league) to an intense, significantly longer experience in an elite, or travel league.  As you might expect, these different types of sport leagues can lead to very different outcomes, and can even lead to big problems if a family quickly races to sign up for a travel league when a recreational league would have been a better fit.

In order to help you decide where your child should play when it comes to travel and recreational leagues, please think about the following:

  • How talented is your child in a specific sport? It’s important to answer this question objectively, and getting outside, credible opinions (i.e. coaches) can help, too.  If your child is an average to below-average athlete, recreational leagues are in most cases a much better fit than a travel league team.
  • How dedicated is your family to the sport experience? Travel leagues are not good or bad, per se, but they are a lot more intense than recreational leagues.  Is your family committed to the time, money, and energy needed to devote to high-intensity sports?
  • What sport league type would your child most enjoy, and most develop? Would your child truly enjoy and benefit from sitting the bench for a travel team, or would she have more fun and more quickly develop her sport skills by playing more regularly on a recreational team?
  • What are your thoughts about the relationship between faster sport skill acquisition and mastery, versus greater risks for sport burnout? While it is true that your child may become a better athlete at a faster rate competing in a travel league, he might also be at-risk for a greater chance of sport burnout.

Of course, these are just a few of the many questions you will want to process with your family before signing up for a sports league.  Unfortunately, many families today are quickly signing up for travel leagues, not because it’s in the best interest of their child, but instead because they feel as though “everybody is doing it” so it must be a good decision.  Instead of looking at the sport league decision in this way, I would encourage you to view it similarly to how you might decide on whether your child should be enrolled in honors or AP classes in school.  In some instances, it makes perfect sense for your child to take advanced classes, but in most cases kids are actually better suited for the standard curriculum offered at their school (and actually benefit from the standard classes instead of feeling overwhelmed in classes beyond their abilities).


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