Choosing the Right Youth Sports League for Your Child

Choosing the right youth sports league for the right child in the right sport can difficult. Advice from parents on how to find the right sports league fit for your child.

I don’t consider myself a “soccer dad.” Maybe I’d be better off characterizing myself as a flag football, gymnastics, tennis lesson, Little League Baseball, basketball and soccer dad. My kids aren’t athletic prodigies by any means, they just enjoy just about all sports and I try to accommodate the youth sports fun whenever money and schedules allow.

Choosing the Right Youth Sports League for Your Child

Choosing the right youth sports league for a child usually has far more to do with a parent or child’s expectations than it does with the league itself. Some leagues are designed to be highly competitive and demand that players participate in rigorous practice for the games. Some youth sports leagues are simple and just want the kids to show up, exercise and have fun. Scores and statistics are either an afterthought or aren’t kept in the “just for fun” leagues until a certain age. My kids have played in both “competitive” and “just for fun” leagues and our expectations have differed and changed through the years. In some sports, my son is competitive and really wants to improve. In others, he just wants to explore golf lessons or a new sport and just have fun with his friends.

I wrote an article detailing some recent reviews of local youth sports leagues. I found, so far, the quality of the youth sports leagues my kids have participated in have been very good when it comes to structure and organization.

I’ve been “on the wrong side of the fence” in a couple of situations and it can make for an uncomfortable season for parent or child. Exposing an athletically high-achieving child to a “just for fun” league can be difficult. Coaches in the “fun” youth sports leagues are often well-meaning volunteers. Some of these coaches are extremely hesitant to discipline or teach skills for fear of a parent getting upset or intimidating a child who may not be at a certain skill level. Think of it as a sports version of “no child left behind.” It sounds great in theory but this scenario may hold your child back if your child really wants to excel in that sport. My son experienced this recently with one of his sports. Players rarely bothered to show up for practice or goofed around to a point where it severely limited the quality of practice. It was frustrating for my son to try very hard to improve his skills while many on his team didn’t seem to care very much.

My son has also known the misfortune of joining a youth sports league where his skill level didn’t match the league’s demands. He recreationally enjoyed basketball but wasn’t ready for the level of competition that awaited an experienced boys basketball league where winning was important. He still enjoyed playing but I wished I had signed him up for a less competitive league or had my husband hone his skills a little more so he could have gone out there with more confidence.

In my few negative experiences, I can’t necessarily blame the leagues themselves. They ran the league they always run. My (and my son’s) expectations didn’t correctly fit that particular sports league. To quote George from Seinfeld – “It’s not you, it’s me.”

It’s not easy to determine which league will best fit the personality and expectations of your child but it doesn’t have to be difficult. Planning ahead or not waiting until the last second helps. Don’t go in blind. Conducting research from reviews, checking out youth sports league websites, or interviewing the head of the league itself to find out if it will be a good fit for your child are things you should definitely consider. Don’t try to jam a square peg in a round hole. You don’t want your child to be overmatched in a competitive league or have a “fun league” be too easy for them.

The most difficult aspect of choosing the right youth sports league for your child may be evaluating the skill level of your child and matching it up with the appropriate league. One effective way to do this is to try a local sports camp. Local sports camps are usually for 2-3 hours a day over a week and offer beginners skills in almost any sport. Sports camps are a fantastic way for kids to see if kids are interested in the sport before they join a league. It’s a great idea to talk to the coaches at youth camp at the end of the camp to see how your son or daughter fared. Ask them honestly which type of  league your child would be best suited for. Any coach worth his/her salt will give you an honest recommendation. They’ll even give recommendations on how a child can improve and what he/she should practice.

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