Navigating Youth Sports Clubs

Navigating Youth Sports Clubs

Is Your Youth Athlete In The Right Sports Club?

NV Stars youth coach Etienne Barba taking the time to develop player skills in between tournament games.

NV Stars youth coach Etienne Barba taking the time to develop player skills in between tournament games.

How to successfully navigate the competing challenges of youth club sports.

Make no mistake about it: youth sports is big business. With your monthly fees, uniform purchases, private lessons, tournament fees, and all the other costs associated with league play and events, you are a consumer in the business of club sports. Before you spend or continue to spend your hard earned money and precious time, here are a few factors from one person’s perspective you should consider.

The Difference Between Club And Recreational Level Teams

Chances are that you have already made the leap from “rec” to club or are wondering what the differences will be. There are many reasons for that and new challenges (and costs) associated with the decision. Recreational level is where most youth begin and end. Club is the next level many decide to commit to for varying reasons. Although most adults would agree making to college or pro level is far beyond the reach of most of us, it does not mean we are unwilling to give our children the opportunity if they excel at what they enjoy. Club level teams will surprise you with the intensity, time requirements, and costs if you are not prepared. But, consider that the sports experienced most of us experienced when we were young is very different. High school programs now almost universally include many kids who have “specialized” in a particular sport. A good friend of mine is a very successful attorney with all the disposable income we all wish we had couldn’t keep up with the time requirements of two sports for his child. As a family they had to decide on one sport when he was eight years old! Don’t let that scare you. Instead, consider it is an opportunity for your child to have self-awareness of his or her athletic skills (in a sport) and desire to commit. When a particular sport appears to not fit him or her, decide on the next interest. Ultimately, any length of commitment to a sport and the skills associated with participating in it will make each child better.

Club Fees?

Back to business. If you are concerned that club coaches might be making money from your child’s participation, then consider this: they are. Many club level coaching staff play or have played professional level. Indeed they are trying to either make or supplement their living with their expertise and skills in your sport. Playing professional soccer does not always equate them to elite athlete pay. Many professional players will ultimately transition to the coaching and administrative side of the business and you should be ecstatic to receive their quality instruction and dedication. Should you be concerned with the fees then understand many recreational teams have volunteers (moms and dads) for coaches who equally dedicate their time but do not necessarily have the same background. So when you add up the number of kids on the team and the price per tournament, do not get concerned that the coach appears to be earning $100 for a weekend unless you expect him or her to do it for free. If you still expect that, recreational teams may be something to consider again.

Wining Versus Player Development?

Winning teaches youth to strive for excellence in all that they do. That is a great thing. I once heard Tony Schumacher, eight time NHRA race champion, relate a story he had with his son’s teacher about playing musical chairs with too many chairs. He told her (in his own words) that if she continued to let kids play musical chairs in a game where there was always a chair for everyone then she was helping to educate future adults who might not ever be good enough to be part of his wining race team. On the other end of the spectrum, winning at all costs requires coaches to decide who plays and who doesn’t. For parents of the best young athletes that means lots of playing time and individual development. And for the rest of us, that means we might have to watch our kids watch from the bench a little more. You have to make the decision on your own which environment is the best for your child. Being part of a winning team is great. So is being great among one’s peers even if it means one’s peers might not be the best out there. That’s why we have access to silver, bronze, and recreational teams. My son, in particular, is just right for the silver team currently. As a family we outgrew the rec environment but he isn’t ready for gold level play. And, getting over that he isn’t the best, I have learned to enjoy watching him being competitive knowing it helps him develop.

The Politics (And The Gossip)

Like you, I do not desire to be part of the politics. But we are. Other parents on your team have had great and not-so-great experiences with other teams, clubs, or coaches. Keep in mind that one bad experience or misunderstanding can spoil someone’s opinion and you are sure to hear how bad that experience was at some point. For every parent on your team willing to share that bad experience, there is another one somewhere else who left your team and is out there touting the reasons why. The best we all can do is to steer clear and stay above those types of discussions. Asking questions of your club staff and coaches in the beginning will help you understand what tournaments, leagues, and facilities the teams participate in and why. Ultimately, it is about the youth participants and their individual development. Nearly all coaches, league staff, and tournament directors are in this business to provide the best experience for the youth and will continue to do so…even when someone has been dissatisfied with their services.

Club Level Leads to Scholarships, Right?

Stop it.  You’re reading the wrong article.  Having taught at a college university for two years, I learned a lot about how to earn (and keep) scholarships.  It all starts with education and circles back to it.  If you strongly desire to put your child in the best position to earn a scholarship for sports, then I hope for your own sake (I mean the mitigation of your impending disappointment) you make education just as much a priority as sports.  Failure to meet a university’s acceptance requirements means that instead of losing a scholarship one isn’t even eligible for one.  I’ve seen this first hand.  But, if your young athlete is that good, then along with your strict focus on homework, make sure you get them on the best club team because he or she will get the most out of it.

The Bottom Line

There is no single set of factors to consider when deciding to move your child to club level sports.  Having said that, I am an advocate of my children playing club because the time and cost associated with it will provide our children with the opportunity to be part of the challenges club bring.  The best kids should be in the best place for their individual development and that might be on the most competitive, expensive team in your area. Other children might enjoy being part of a great team even if they play less and have awareness that they are not as good as others on a particular team. Cost might not be as much as a determining factor to you as it is to others. Finding the right competitive level and team in that level is a difficult choice that requires consideration of these factors and many more. Good luck in your hunt on that journey!