Given that the days of unsupervised pickup games are largely a relic of the past, it is not surprising that an estimated 45 million children and adolescents participate in organized sports in the United States. While there are abundant options from which to choose at the recreation level, many parents will eventually decide to allow their children to take part in more competitive, travel-oriented sports culture.
I have been part of the youth sports culture for years now, as a parent, coach, professor, and sports psychology consultant. While I have witnessed the many benefits associated with organized athletics beyond the rewards inherent in the participation in vigorous exercise, many participants—at all stages and performance levels—seem to enjoy the intensity, travel, camaraderie, and challenge that competitive travel-sports provides. At the same time, I am also concerned that all of the lifelong benefits of sports participation will be lost because the growing $15.3 billion youth sports market is pushing children out of sports far too soon.
Research suggests that 35 percent of young athletes quit participating in organized sports in any given year, and by age 13, 70 percent of them have completely dropped out! It appears that the "professionalization" of youth sports—that appears to be driven more by profit than by the development of athletes and lifelong participants in athletics—has taken the fun out of the experience. If you are going to set your child up for a positive experience within this highly competitive sports culture, it is essential that you mindfully approach this process to avoid falling victim to the emotion and myths that surround it.
Here are five strategies to help you maintain a balanced approach to your child’s participation: