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What Team Should My Child Play On?

As we move into the fall sports season, several people have asked me how to determine what team and what level of competition their child should participate in. Youth sports has gotten so diverse and complicated, that we now have recreational leagues, competitive leagues and traveling teams. And some of these levels of competitive and traveling teams are filtering down to 6 and 7 year olds. I constantly hear comments and read quotes from coaches who talk about the importance of getting involved at an early age or “your child will fall behind and never catch up”. I recently read about a company that teaches 2 year olds how to play soccer! So as a parent, how do you decide what is best for your child? The day after Labor Day will be the beginning of my 30th year in practice as a psychologist. During the past 30 years, I have heard a lot of things from parents and coaches about how good their child is, and about how much potential and ability they have. Do they really have all of this ability? Maybe, and then maybe not. I think the first step in deciding what team your child should play on, is taking your ego out of the decision. Too many parents think their child can shoot the ball like Kobe Bryant, hit a golf ball like Tiger Woods or swing a bat like Derek Jeter. And typically, their child isn’t even 8 years old! They often think that playing or signing up for an advanced level team will catapult their child above others. After watching some of the Little League World Series recently, it concerned me more about all of this hype. During one of the games that the team from Pennsylvania was playing, the announcers commented that these kids were now “being treated like rock stars”. I know there were people watching this thinking that their son was as good or better than these kids. So, as I mentioned earlier, once you can take your ego out of the decision, ask your son or daughter what they want to do. Do they want to play and have fun? Do they want to play on a team that focuses on winning? Do they want to be on a team where everyone plays a lot or spends a lot of time on the bench? If you think your child is better than the other kids on their recreational team, and may be good enough to play on an elite team, interview the coach and parents of kids who have played on the team. Ask what they like and maybe don’t like about the team. Find out what requirements there are for participating, coming to practice, etc. The same can be said if your child plays on an elite team and wants to play on a traveling team. However, also remember the financial demands, the time demands from traveling and the time spent away from home as a family. Obviously, there are a lot of positives that can come from all of these levels of competition, but in the end is it what you want your child to do, because you think they are that good, or is it what they want to do, and after being evaluated by an experienced coach, can do.

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