Traveling, competitive sports teams provide incredible experiences for youth athletes--top-tier competition, comprehensive, professional coaching and exposure to collegiate and professional scouts are the primary benefits of participating in competitive sports. For many athletes, joining a competitive sports team is the igniter for a productive athletic career and a life-long passion for sport. Is your child ready to make the jump into competitive sports?
Overview of Competitive Sports
Before entering your child in a competitive sports program, it's important to understand the physical, mental and financial investments required.
Most youth sports organizations employ the pay-to-play model. Traditionally, fees to play competitive sports are rather high. Competitive coaches are usually former collegiate or professional athletes with many years of experience in their respective sport. Most competitive coaches have advanced degrees in education, sports performance or possess sport-specific certifications. Often, competitive sports teams or clubs will have a uniform contract with an athletic apparel company like Under Armour. Professional coaches, and high-performance athletic gear create a higher cost than a volunteer coach and a cotton-shirt or jersey provided by school or recreational sports organizations.
Time commitments of a competitive sports team can resemble a part-time job. Competitive teams, based on the age of the players, will practice or train anywhere between 2 and 4 times a week. Depending on the sport, competitive teams have 1 to 6 games a week. Let us not forget about travel!
The highest level of competition in youth sports is often outside the immediate area of where a club or team practices, or plays their home contests. Many teams in major metropolitan areas, featuring multiple competitive sports clubs or organizations in the same sport, will choose to participate in statewide, regional or national leagues and tournaments.
Driving substantial miles, arranging overnight lodging for long trips, and booking flights for major tournaments can raise financial concerns for most parents.
Your family may be ready to commit, but how do you know your player is ready for competitive sports? Please, observe the following abilities and ask recreational or school coach to evaluate how your player compares to teammates and opponents in his or her age level.
Essential abilities are subjective, and are specific to each sport. I would recommend paying attention to athletic ability, technical ability and problem solving ability.
Athletic Ability is important to every sport. The athletic requirements for each sport vary, but absolutes across most sports. When I assess athletic ability, my main areas of focus are balance and coordination. Is your athlete in control of his or her body? How is his or her hand-eye coordination? Can he or she balance properly on one foot? Can he or she change direction of movement with ease? The answers to the previous questions should provide you with how balanced and coordinated your athlete is. Balance and coordination are basic abilities, but without either of them athletes will struggle to meet most demands of any sport. Raw, physical ability is important in most sports. Is your child tall for his or her age? Is he or she as strong or stronger than teammates and opponents? Does your athlete have equal or superior speed to his or her peers? If you, or your coach offer the answer "yes" to any of the previous questions, your player probably has the physical capability to participate in competitive sports.
Technical Ability and skill are often tied together. "Skill players" in Football and Hockey are often the players creating scoring plays and providing captivating moments in games. Ball or puck handling, shooting, passing, throwing and pitching accuracy are good reference points for gauging the technical ability of each athlete. Do not mind the one-off, flashy, spectacular moment. Pay attention to the consistent, repeated to perform routine actions exceptionally well.
Problem Solving Ability is difficult to identify. Athletes with high problem solving ability can recognize patterns occurring games and effectively make adjustments without coaching. Problem solving ability can be referred to as Basketball/Soccer/Football "IQ", "smarts" or gamesmanship. Coining the term is far less important than observing and appreciating the ability. Examples may include a baseball player choking up on his bat to reduce swing time against a high-velocity pitcher, a volleyball player choosing to lob the ball over aggressive blockers rather than attempt to hit through their defensive wall, or a basketball player using pump-fakes to beat a defender in order to create a shorter, higher percentage scoring opportunity.
Essential abilities are different in each sport. Outside of your recreational or school coach, consider enlisting a private sports trainer to evaluate your youth athlete. A experienced trainer should be able to explain which abilities are most beneficial to success in your respective sport and can asses how your athlete compares to his or her peers.
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