Youth Sports – How Soon, and How Much is Too Much?

Alexandra is a bright girl who just turned eight. Over the past several years she has participated in t-ball, tennis, soccer, dance, swimming and Kung fu programs. Currently, she has quit all of these programs except swimming and Kung fu. She also just started piano lessons and will try basketball this fall. Alexandra is the typical child sampling extracurricular programs including youth sports as she approaches early adolescence. The Trusted Coaches team is often asked difficult questions such as:

  • When should children start participating in organized sports?
  • How much is too much?
  • How soon should they specialize and concentrate on one sport?
  • My children don’t seem athletically coordinated, so should they skip sports to avoid frustration and disappointment?
  • My child is very gifted in sports. Is it a good idea to skip other extracurricular opportunities and just focus on success in sports?

There are no simple answers to these questions. Each child is unique and will be ready for different athletic challenges at their own separate times. However, we can offer insight and guidelines on how to address these questions.

The topic of organized youth sports brings out the “free play” advocates who argue for unstructured activity that has no adult involvement. These people see only the deficiencies of youth sports and think that kids should spontaneously create their own games in the backyard, sandbox and neighborhood (not be over-scheduled or signed up for mom or dad’s favorite sport).

A Pediatrics Journal article reports, “A return to the days of free play has been suggested as one means to eliminate negative aspects of organized sports. Unfortunately, the days when children had the time, opportunity, or inclination to play in neighborhoods or local parks have passed. Today, there are more demands on a young person’s time, more options for free time, diminished requirements for regular physical activity, and fewer opportunities for free play. School-based physical education programs have also been reduced throughout the years and can no longer be relied on to provide adequate levels of healthy activity.

“Regular physical activity can help reduce the risk of many adult health problems, including diabetes, obesity, and heart disease. However, with less time dedicated to free play and school physical education programs, the result may be lower activity levels and lower levels of fitness for children. There is a greater need to protect opportunities for structured and unstructured physical activity for children. Organized sports may not provide all physical activity needs but can be a viable means to increase activity levels in children and, hopefully, lead to the adoption of active lifestyles as adults.”

The Trusted Coaches team addresses the inadequacies of many youth sports programs (unscreened and untrained coaches, overly-involved parents with unrealistic expectations, unsafe or inadequate facilities, etc.). Our team believes that participation in organized sports can be a great plus in a child’s life provided there are age-appropriate programs specifically designed to maximize child development (physical and social skills) in a safe environment. To be successful, youth sports organizations must allow for an equitable process in choosing teams, careful matching of competitors and enforcement of applicable safety rules. Programs specifically targeted at younger athletes can simultaneously reduce injuries and increase fun. Age-appropriate accommodations associated with organized youth sports include smaller playing surfaces, shorter nets or baskets, reduced contest times, pitch count limits, etc.
The availability of qualified (trained and screened) coaches in organized sports is always the first step in providing a safe and positive experience. Many people believe that youth sports is “the ultimate classroom” that offers lessons that can’t be found in the academic classroom. The academic research on youth sports is clear: Youth sports are generally a constructive force in most children’s lives, especially when children and their parents understand the real benefits offered. Youth sports’ useful effects include learning goal setting, time management, psychological resilience, perseverance, and teamwork. Research shows that children who play sports have:

  • higher grades and greater college attendance (more academically-oriented friends);
  • greater confidence and personal initiative (especially important for girls);
  • increased positive relationships with adults (teachers, coaches and parents);
  • stronger and more diverse peer relationships (interaction of ethnic, racial and socio-economic classes);
  • high risk behavior reduced (lower use of tobacco, alcohol, illegal drugs; lower pregnancy rates);
  • greater community contribution (extracurricular participation and volunteer work).

So the Trusted Coaches team guidelines to youth sports parents’ questions are:

  • When should children start participating in organized sports? – As soon as the child and family are ready, babies learn to swim at six months. Choose age-appropriate programs that emphasize fun and basic skill development.
  • How much is too much? – Again, this is a decision that the child and parents make together but let your child try everything that is within reason. Let them discover their joy and passion.
  • How soon should they specialize and concentrate on one sport? – Never! Even professional athletes play multiple sports. A child’s body is not built to do only one thing 12 months a year.
  • My children don’t seem athletically coordinated, so should we skip sports to avoid frustration and disappointment? – Absolutely not! Obesity rates are increasing for children and adults. Find physical activities in which your children can succeed so they build the healthy life habit of vigorous exercise. Guard against your children becoming addicted to screens (computers, smart phones, tablets, television, etc.).
  • My child is very gifted in sports, so is it a good idea to skip other extracurricular opportunities and just focus on success in sports? – Again, absolutely not! As important as sports can be, children need to have other activities that delight them and work the muscle between their ears, such as debate, drama, student council, language club, orchestra/band, robotics, computer/media, volunteer work, Boy/Girl Scouts, etc. All of these offer many positive things beyond sports.

Equipping your child’s youth coaches with character development education and necessary safety training ultimately creates a positive, productive and fun environment that helps retain kids and keeps them interested throughout their primary years.

The Trusted Coaches Program (TC) (www.trustedcoaches.org) offers the most up-to-date training tools necessary for coaches to provide our young athletes a safe, positive and productive experience. TC also allows administrators to effortlessly monitor and manage their coaches’ training and development.

TC has four components, which are fundamental to being a successful youth coach. The components include:

1)   First-aid training

2)   Concussion instruction

3)   The Positive Coaching Alliance “Double Goal” Coach® character education course

4)   A nationwide criminal history background screen

This entire program is delivered online and can be completed at each coach’s own pace. Upon completion, coaches are issued a TC Membership Card with their color photo. The benefits of this program include:

  • powerful techniques presented by leading coaches and sports psychologists, which increases coaches’ effectiveness while enhancing players’ experiences;
  • training, which minimizes the threat of harm or injury to young athletes;
  • a “one-stop shop” for youth organizations to deliver best practices training to their coaches;
  • a turnkey administrative system with an online repository that keeps track of coaches’ certifications and renewal dates.

Trusted Coaches is expert-designed and is an affordable solution that makes it easy for youth sports organizations to provide the best sports experience possible. The total cost per coach is $35.00 (a $95.00 value if purchased separately).

Volume Discounts (registrations must be purchased at one time):

$30.00 per coach for sports organizations that send 50 or more coaches through Trusted Coaches

$27.50 per coach for sports organizations that send 150 or more coaches through Trusted Coaches

For more information, please log on to www.trustedcoaches.org and view the entire site. If you would like additional information regarding the Trusted Coaches program, do not hesitate to contact Dawson Blanck at dawson@trustedcoaches.org or 763-746-1719.