Is Your Child Ready to Compete at a Higher Level?
One of the biggest questions in youth sports is whether or not your athlete is competing at the right level. There are several important factors to consider before making the choice to move your athlete up in competition and intensity. The higher the level of competition the more games, more travel, more time, more money, more pressure (on everyone), and more politics. This decision should not be made lightly because it will affect your entire family. Do not get distracted by the old view of youth sports and kids participating for exercise, fun, and recreation. Competitive youth sports are serious business. And beyond the business, this space represents a place where people dream of college scholarships and professional play. In other words, the higher up the ladder you climb the more intense it gets; and for those of you who are not accustomed to the politics it can get darn right ugly. The question is, are you ready for it and is it the right choice for your family?
The three main things to consider are: talent, want, and cost.
Talent: Does your athlete have the talent to move up? This is a tough question because everyone see their kids through golden glasses, as we should! But it’s important to know if your athlete has the skill and work ethic to move up. If they have the skill, but no drive to work hard, then moving up is not for you. If they have some skill but are willing to work very hard, the choice may be right if you can afford the cost. Assessing skill level is key to making the right decision for your family. Try to get an opinion from somebody who doesn’t have any emotional or financial stake in the decision. People who want your money will tell you anything to get it; and remember this is a business. If your athlete doesn’t have the talent (or at least decent talent and unparalleled drive), moving up will only bring pain. Pain to your athlete, your family, and your wallet.
Want: Does your athlete want to move up? This is really important. If your athlete has no internal motivation to compete at a higher level, then moving up is not in your best interest. If you move your athlete up for you, it will almost always end badly. Also recognize that they may say they want to move up because they know you want it even though they do not. If you want to make the choice that is right for your athlete and relationship, it’s vital to make sure this is something they REALLY want. Is your athlete self-motivated to play this sport? Are they practicing on their own with no prompting? Do they talk about it all the time and spend their own money on it? Do you have to drag them in and pry the ball from their hand every night? The motivation of your athlete is even more important than the talent. Talent alone will not carry you in elite sports, you need the desire and hunger to persevere and it has to some from within. If your athlete has the skill, wants to work hard, and is actively seeking out the sport on their own time, then they are probably ready to compete at a higher level.
Cost: Can you afford the time and the money? This is the clincher. Even if your child has the talent and the want, it still takes a family to support the participation. Increased competition means more practice, more games, and usually more/further travel. This can be a wonderful experience for an athlete who is willing and ready. But this level of commitment can also put a significant strain on the family. You may have money but not the time. You may have the time but not the money. You may have neither. Some are willing to make huge sacrifices to make participation possible, but this sacrifice can strain family relations if everyone isn’t on the same page. Over-investment can put undo pressure on a young athlete’s performance which can lead to family struggle and poor performance. Or rather, if you invest more than you have, you may find yourself unintentionally showing more affection and attention to your child when they are winning and feeling negatively toward them and yourself when they are not performing well…this is a very bad situation and unfortunately far too common.
Think carefully about how this decision impacts everyone involved and make the decision that’s right for all of you. If everyone is willing to sacrifice and work hard to make it happen together then go for it; have regular family conversations so any tensions or issues can be discussed openly and dealt with sooner than later. If you don’t have the money or the time and the investment is too great, this kind of decision can crush your family. If your kid has the talent and the drive, there are options that don’t involve selling the farm. Remember that only 1% of all youth athletes will receive a college scholarship. Less than 1% of those elite college athletes will have the opportunity to go pro. Too many parents get sucked into the belief that the more money they put in, the better their athlete will be. This is false. If your kid is not an elite athlete, no amount of money will make it so. And if your kid is elite and driven to excel, very few things will hold them back.
The most important factor is protecting your athlete and your family.