Some time ago, we received an email from a dad who was considering signing his 7-year-old up to play on a “select” tournament team. We also get messages throughout the year asking what is best for pre-teenage players. Given that many parents may wonder if playing competitive ball as early as 2nd or 3rd grade might improve a player’s chances to get scholarships, we wanted to share our answer with KPB readers.
When deciding whether you want to invest the time and money needed to have an elementary-school player join a tournament team, we would encourage you to get out to see some of the team’s games on your own. Take a hard look at what the atmosphere is like and what the expectations are for the coaches and the players. “Select” youth sports can be very competitive and you don’t want your son to get hurt, discouraged, or burned out. We’re not telling you to be overprotective here. Highly competitive and often expensive youth sports teams can push parents, coaches, and players to do some very negative things that might surprise you, all in the name of winning.
The big things you want to know:
- How many and how long are practices for the team? Most kids go all out when they enjoy a game, so you don’t want your son to hurt his arm because he doesn’t get enough rest.
- Will he play Little League or Pony too? Repetitive stress injuries happen when kids play for multiple leagues without taking the necessary breaks.
- Does the league have rules (like Little League) to limit pitches/innings etc.? There are reasons for those rules. Is the “season” short enough not to interfere with other sports or leagues that your son enjoys?
- Will your son’s new coach share his love for the game or his obsession for winning? One is fun; the other can get scary. Highly competitive parents can be scary too.
- Will playing in the league prevent your son from exploring other interests? Elementary school is not the time to lock down a single sport or activity.
- Does the coach have any training in injury prevention and first aid? Will your son tell you or another adult if he is hurt or will he try to keep playing? We’ve seen coaches let 12-year-olds throw 135+ pitches to win games – and the injuries that follow.
- MOST important! What does your son want to do? If you find that the team may be a good option (based on the rest of these questions), make sure that your son wants to play, not just to please you but because he thinks it will be fun!
In elementary school, most kids are just developing their interest in sports. We encourage you to make sure that your child has time and opportunities to explore whatever interests him. If you want to help your child to become an athlete, keeping him active and coachable until he decides where to focus his energy will be your best investment.