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When Is It Appropriate for Your Child to Move from Recreational to Elite Level Sports

This past week a parent of a 10 year old girl asked me whether I thought it was appropriate for their daughter to move up from a recreational soccer team to a premier team. He mentioned that his daughter was a very good athlete and played several sports year round. She enjoyed all of them and had never asked to play on a premier team. However, a premier coach had been scouting her team for new players and was extremely impressed with her athleticism. As a result, the coach asked the parents if they would be interested in having their daughter attend a tryout and they agreed. After attending the tryout the coach essentially begged the parents to let their daughter join the team. The father told me he was concerned about several issues: time commitment, money, traveling, and a loss of interest in other activities as a result of specializing in one sport. What would you do?

In today’s world of youth sports, this is an issue that many people are confronted with on a regular basis. More and more youth sports are becoming more of a business rather than an activity. Youth sport academies are popping up all over the country to train kids in specific techniques in their sport. Private coaches, nutritionists, personal trainers and sport psychologists are available to be hired to assist your child at getting better in all aspects of their athletic activity. So when does sport become more of an activity that is based on winning and have the idea of a college scholarship become an issue, or where should it just be an activity where kids can just have some fun and play with their friends?

I believe recreational youth sports should just be that, recreational. The focus of any sport at this level should be on having fun, getting all of the kids to play and have something that will give them a positive memory. Yes, eventually, the trophies, plaques and ribbons may be boxed up and put away, but the opportunity to play and have some fun is what youth sports at this level should be all about. I am aware of traveling premier youth teams in baseball, softball, basketball and soccer for kids at ages 6 and 7. Personally, I believe this is too young of an age for kids to be participating at this level. Yes, some kids are farther along physically and from an emotional maturity level, but I believe most kids can burn out by the time they are 13 to 14 and want to do other things if they have been playing at this level for such a long time.

From my conversations over the past 30 years with parents, coaches and athletes in youth sports, I believe the best time to move up to a premier team is around age 12 to 13. Obviously, there are exceptions, but as a rule I believe this is the best age from both a physical and emotional level for most kids to move up. At this age, most kids will either express an interest in wanting to play on a better team, or sooner or later want to quit by high school.

If your child does express an interest in moving up to a premier team, I would advise you to speak not only with the coach of that team, but also with parents of kids on the team. Find out about how much time is involved. How much are the fees for the coach, for training, for traveling, for uniforms etc. Can your child play other sports and can they play on their recreational team as well? What are the rules about attending practices? What happens if you want to go on a family vacation during the season? Will your child not be allowed to play in games or tournaments if you go out of town? These are questions to ask. Most importantly, is it something your child wants to do, or is it something you want your child to do? Let me hear your thoughts.


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