Stay Away From Competition!
This is what many headlines state when I searched for Tot Sport topics for my next blog. So, I decided to chime in on this topic and do some research on “What age is appropriate for kids to begin Competitive Youth Sports (Teams)”. Let me quote an article in Parenting Magazine…
“Most toddler sports “teams” are just kiddie classes with jerseys, and that’s a good thing. In fact, until about the age of 7 or 8, competition can be stressful for kids and turn them off of sports forever. The focus should simply be on fun, with no winners or losers or right way or wrong way at this age.” Parenting – online.
I do agree that it should be fun with no winners or losers but I am not complete agreement with the initial statement. If most Toddler sports “teams” are just kiddie classes with jerseys it would be a good thing, but once you put one group vs another group it is NOT a class, it is a competition and one team will win and one team will lose…period. There is NO playing without keeping score! Kids keep the score and parents keep the score even if there is no scoreboard. Please note, I am not against competition. Life is a constant competition so the earlier kids know and understand what competition is all about the more prepared they will be for their future. The question is, when and at what age do you really want to focus on it and introduce it as a major factor?
In my line of work as the owner of Beginners Edge Sports Training, I have seen my fair share of leagues starting at 3 years old(or 2 years old) that are competitive. Maybe they are not seen or marketed as competitive, but you and I know many parents will encourage their 3-year-old to win as well as the Coaches! Also and more prevalent thing to understand is that kids this age do not understand being part of a team. Let’s take soccer, if a ball is in play and all the kids from both teams are swarming after it, a) someone always gets hurt, 2) someone is always more skilled than the others, 3) someone(s) always get left behind as they feel inferior as they might not be aggressive enough, fast enough, skilled enough. That is a LOT of pressure on a youngster.
When I began playing organized sports “Team” sports I began playing basketball at age 6 in a league. They kept score, there was winning and losing, kids cried, kids rejoiced, kids got trophies for 1st, 2nd, 3rd (NO there were no participation trophies). League sports are competitive no matter how you look at it.
So where does competition come in and at what age is appropriate to begin sports?
There are certainly reasons for starting kids at age 6 or older in competitive leagues. I know, I know, many parents nowadays feel that starting their kids earlier and earlier in leagues give them an edge up on being the best on the team, but there are other things to consider and most of them provide substantial reason as to why B.E.S.T. Youth Sports classes were created and continues to grow.
What I would ask you to consider is when you are thinking about signing your 3 yr-old (or even younger) for team/competitive sports, consider the nature and structure of the program you are putting them in. Is the purpose to have fun? Is the purpose to get them scouted? Is the purpose because you love the sport and you want your child to? What is the reason and does that reason and philosophy follow the same philosophy as the organization?
After you find a 2-5 year old league I am sure you are saying to yourself, “Oh, my child will look so adorable in a uniform and how amazing the pictures will be.”, I ask you to consider how small their attention span is. Think about the nature of their play. For a 2-5 year old, there will typically nothing organized about what you see happen on the field. Yes, cute to watch that is undisputable, but is it appropriate? How will they react when they lose? Will they be able to understand it is ok? Will they give up on the sport? Will they give up on anything competitive?
Think about this, a 2-5 year old “typically” is very “me” centered. They are free-spirited, not easy to provide directions to, especially when you release them onto a field without an adult close by ;). Many children this age can not comprehend what is going on during the game and they will do what they all do best is which is whatever they want. Even in our program, we try to incorporate scrimmaging BUT 90% of the time they are FUN, INDIVIDUAL activities done as a group to minimize the competitive aspect and focus on learning.
Let’s think about this, leagues are typically run by coaches who are volunteers. They typically do not have a complete access to resources to understand of the capabilities of a young child. Our B.E.S.T. Sports Program, we screen, train, teach and provide age appropriate manual, curriculum and equipment all age appropriate. League Coaches are on their own and typically can only focus on the strategy of the game such as teaching players what to do in all the different situations they come across. This is not to the fault of the Coach at all, but their job is to get them ready for GAME Day which means positioning, what to do when the ball comes to them, what to do when they hit a ball, what to do if a teammate has multiple people guarding them etc. That is SUPER hard to teach 2-5 year old.
Here is my warning: Programs that are not developmentally appropriate, combined with the potentially unrealistic expectations of the coach or parent weather real or perceived may set the child up for a bad experience. These situations have the potential to make young players who are not ready for sports feel like they are inadequate which can lead to a decreased self-esteem, and more specifically can cause a dislike for sports. Unfortunately the ones who are most negatively affected are the children who are the late bloomers and whose skills may not be as developed as the “early superstars.”
So with all that said, Parents, do your homework, talk it over, do your research, consider the pro’s and cons while determining what is important for your child when enrolling your child in a a sports program or league!