Should Your Child Play Recreational or Competitive Youth Sports?

The great thing about youth sports today is that there are so many options for your child. The growing number of camps, clinics, coaches, community leagues, and travel teams continues to offer any opportunity your child could want. But with these choices comes another dilemma: should your child play recreational or competitive youth sports? Let’s take a quick look at the differences to help you answer this question yourself.


  • Rarely has tryouts. As long there is space on the team rosters, players can play
  • Often teams are balanced skill-wise
  • Most of the time, there is a one-time registration fee, but it’s less than competitive
  • Players benefit from social interaction with same-age players
  • Players have an opportunity to develop fundamental skills
  • Games are often held at the same location every week and little travel is required
  • Often, coaches are parent volunteers
  • Recreational sports are normally offered through a recreation center. 
  • Recreational sports often have more players which means less commitment from each child
  • Games are played during their regular season — i.e. baseball in the spring
  • Games are for fun and played around the local community


  • Competitive sports are much more time-consuming and require a huge commitment
  • Tryouts are held to categorize players according to skill
  • The teams are usually harder to get into and a challenge to stay on
  • Teams usually travel out of the city or area for at least some of the tournaments
  • Tournaments are mostly held on the weekends, Saturday and Sunday
  • Coaches are more likely to be licensed, experienced coaches and not just volunteers
  • Team fees are higher
  • There are other costs that come as a result of traveling: gas, food, hotel
  • Many competitive sports are played year-round

Now the question is, how do you know what’s right for your child and family? Before committing to a competitive or recreational team, here’s a few things for you to evaluate:

  • Are you willing to make the financial commitment to club fees and travel expenses for a competitive team? Or would those costs cause problems in your budget and affect the rest of the family in a negative way?
  • Are you willing to travel to out-of-town games or at least be responsible for seeing that your child can get there?
  • Are you okay with giving up entire weekends focused on watching sports? Is every member of the family on board with this sacrifice?
  • Does your child have the ability to balance school, homework, practice, tournaments, and other extra curricular activities?

When it comes to making this decision for your child, there is no right or wrong answer. It is a decision that you must research and discuss with your family. What’s good for one family may not be good for another.

As you contemplate this decision, keep in mind the words of John O’Sullivan from Changing the Game Project: “The (youth sports) path (can be) a race to nowhere, and it does not produce better athletes. It produces bitter athletes who get hurt, burnout, and quit sports altogether.

Your ultimate goal as you make weigh the competitive versus recreational decision should be to help your child enjoy the youth sports journey and keep him out of the race to nowhere.

youth sports basketball
competitive or recreational?

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One Response

  1. This kinda makes a good case for rec sports but its very difficult to find teammates who know how to play in the rec level. A lot of parents aren’t seeking out competitive play but rec leagues past 4th grade mostly have beginning level players. Most club players could definitely just play rec and be ok. There needs to be a movement back into rec. It’s not hard to make any club team as it’s mostly dilluted.

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