If this is your first time looking for a youth sports program in Orange County, you will quickly discover that you have a lot of options. A simple Google search for “kids sports around me” will likely result in 100s of organizations vying for your attention.
So how can parents begin to sort through all the options?
Of course there are the obvious things to consider: good coaches, driving distance, total cost, etc. But at the end of the day, and above all else, parents should be striving to identify a youth sports program that supports their athlete’s development and delivers positive training and gameplay experiences.
After helping hundreds of families in the Orange County area identify and place their son or daughter in the right youth sports program, Coach Sean Sargeant of Magic Elite Basketball Academy has compiled his top 5 tips for parents currently going through their own sports program search.
Understand the role that youth sports play in a child’s early development
Playing sports at a young age has far more benefits than many people are aware of. Beyond the health and social benefits, youth athletes also experience faster development of cognitive skills and improved mental health.
It’s important that parents – both experienced and those new to youth sports – understand the role youth sports play in their child’s early development and set proper expectations regarding what they hope to get out of their program of choice. Especially before high school, the goal should not be to create professional athletes but rather to maximize the quality of the youth sports experience and, hopefully, the positive impact that the experience has on your child’s life.
When parents and coaches prioritize skill development, happiness, and passion above game time and winning, players are more likely to experience the benefits shared above and take those experiences with them into high school and adulthood.
There are benefits to being a multi-sport youth athlete
Should your son or daughter play more than one sport? Absolutely!
In fact, according to USA Baseball, specializing in a single sport too early can result in burnout, which increases the chances that athletes will decide to quit playing all together or worse, continue playing out of a sense of obligation, rather than passion for their sport. Multi-sport athletes, on the other hand, often develop into more well-rounded athletes, display more confidence, and experience fewer injuries due to overuse (for example, a pitcher in baseball taking 2-3 months off a year to play a different sport will give their shoulder a much needed break).
Your son or daughter might not be ready for competitive leagues or clubs
And that’s okay.
Before your son or daughter makes the transition from recreational leagues to competitive leagues or clubs, there are a few things you should be considering:
- Age – most youth athletes should be at least 10 years old before they start playing competitively. Before that, the emphasis should be skill development, sparking passion for sports, and gaining confidence. The transition to competitive sports comes with additional stress around winning, losing, and being compared to other athletes. Being measured in such a way is unnecessary at an early age and can result in burnout, unnecessary stress, and ultimately a loss of passion.
- Skill level – unfortunately, there are clubs and competitive leagues that will accept players at any skill level just to add numbers (and revenue) to their program. This is unethical, and is ultimately a disservice to the athlete. Coaches should guide parents in their effort to place their child in the right program.That being said, it’s important as a parent to pay attention to your son or daughter during games and training to see where they stand in terms of skill level before making a decision to transition to a competitive league or club.
- Passion for the sport – Does your child truly love the sport on his or her own? Is there complaining before practice? Do you need to motivate them to practice on their own? If they are going to start playing their sport in a more stressful environment, a foundation of passion for the sport and self-motivation is crucial for the transition to result in positive experiences.
- Their reason for wanting to switch – Ideally, their desire to switch would come from a place of personal motivation: “I’m doing this because I want to excel in my sport and be the best that I can be.” Getting to that point is often the result of being in the right earlier program to begin with, and having the right type of support from parents in the first place.If they want to switch because, for example, a friend is playing up, that might not be the best reason to make the transition to a competitive league.
It’s important that parents take the time to understand the reason why their athlete may want to make the transition before doing so. If it’s not for the right reasons, the transition might do more harm than good.
Learn the difference between skill development programs and recreational leagues
Before a youth athlete can have a positive game experience, there are certain skills and concepts with which he or she must become familiar (imagine trying to play a game of basketball after only having dribbled or shot the ball for three or four weeks prior).
Especially at a young age, leagues and club environments which emphasize winning, scoring, and game time above proper skill/athlete development lay the foundation for deflating game experiences, burnout, and ultimately a loss of passion for the sport.
Academies, on the other hand, have long been used by professional sports teams around the world to identify and develop youth athletes because they allow athletes to receive consistent coaching within a certain style of play over the course of several years. This ability to set longer term improvement goals is uniquely different from the traditional league experience in which athletes rotate teams, coaches, and gameplay styles on a once (sometimes twice) yearly basis. Such a short period of time is not enough for most people (let alone children) to grasp a new skill or idea even without the added stress of adapting to a new set of friends, coaches, etc.
All that being said, take a moment to assess your athlete’s technical skill level and understanding of the game. If he or she is struggling with the basics like swinging a bat, or kicking a ball, leagues and clubs that overemphasize gameplay and underemphasize skill development may be the wrong program selection right now.
The player-to-coach ratio is important
In academics, a low student-to-teacher ratio is an indication of what is likely to be a better learning experience for those students. Parents will often pay a premium for schools and universities that, among other things, ensure that there are enough faculty and staff to provide students with meaningful interaction, focused attention, and specific instruction.
Similar to academics, youth sports programs are able to provide better learning experiences and faster growth for their athletes by maintaining a reasonable player-to-coach ratio.
The truth is that most sports leagues operate as a business, and those businesses have revenue goals like every other business. Some programs are willing to maintain a high player-to-coach ratio to minimize their own costs. However, that high ratio can result in deflating training experiences.
We hope this article was helpful! If you are interested in learning more about Magic Elite Basketball Academy or signing up for a 30-day no obligation free trial, please either contact us directly or sign up on our free trial page.