The cost of youth athletics

Over Guapo Grande

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Spawned from a derailment in BBtL... this crosses multiple sports. From a personal level, I played soccer at a fairly competitive level for 3 seasons growing up.... and I know the cost was nowhere near what it is these days (I know, because I know my parents wouldn't be able to afford it). When did youth athletics really become a pay-to-play type of deal?

EDIT-- I've mentioned this to some before- but my father had been at one point the Executive Director of Mass Youth Soccer. At some point during his tenure, there was a breaking out of teams to form their own leagues, bringing in more international players than were allowed by USYSA, etc. So maybe early aughts for soccer?
 
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Kliq

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Outside of the US and Canada most western nations have clubs that specialize ina sport and it is outside of the school system. Most of these clubs will have a pro team at the top, and their are varying divisions. Hoops is what I know best so here is an outline of the many basketball clubs across Europe, Oceania, Parts of the middle east, Asia as well.

Top Level pro team will have 2 imports. Div 1 in Europe is anyone in Eurpean union and all these guys are full time pros, getting signed traded, etc. Not a small number of naturized Americans play as nonimports in these leagues.
There are various Divisions, Div is next to NBA especially in Spain, Italy, France. Div 2 can be close to G-league in places like Russia, Lithuania, Italy, France, etc where the local talent is high.

Age Group team Usually u19. These are usually local guys but big clubs will bring in top talent from that nation. These guys play schedule almost as intense as the pros, have a full time staff, this is serious ball. Rather than competitive leagues under this age the stars as young as 14/15 may play with this team, or train with them.
Local Age group teams. Basically high school aged teams. The club will run a league, every team will have 3/4 former pros coaching. My nephew played pro in Sweden and he said the league was very comparable to Canadian highschool except every coach was good, and there were almost no players under 6 feet tall. (Scandanavia. My nephew is 6'8 and he bought clothes that fit everwhere in Sweden). Huge amount of time spent on skills play games usually on weekends. This the big difference from USA/Canada winning is not as big a deal, though the games are intense. Coaches are recognized for producing players, not wins. Kobe for example hated the focus on winning in high school and especially AAU in the USA. Most of these kids will play just one sport and hoop 12 months a year. Talented kids will be moved up an age group, rather than starting competitive leagues for kids.
Under 12. will be skills , skills, skills much like a basketball camp. Again almost all of the coaches are former pros, or at least guys that made it to elite u19 level. My nephew said the 10 year olds in Sweden were making 50fts, 50 jumpers every day.

Here is the big thing.
These clubs are well funded often by the government. But the structure below the pro team is part of the deal.
I think in general, basketball has some key differences from other sports. When we are talking about some sports, things like swimming, gymnastics, baseball, etc. the idea is that people that have the means to pay for elite training and coaching are at a huge, almost insurmountable advantage because they are getting elite coaching and competition, while also being able to participate in the sport more frequently. That certainly exists to a degree in basketball; but there are some key aspects of the sport that make basketball different.

Basketball being played at a highly competitive level is one of the most genetically selective sports. You basically have to be in the 99th percentile in height to have a chance at playing at an elite level. This makes it so that if you do have the good fortune of being that tall, there are far less barriers of entry into the sport. This opens up the door for disadvantaged kids to find their way into elite programs at a higher rate. Chris Boucher is a good example; he was extremely poor, dropped out of high school, and was discovered playing on the playground by an AAU coach, and all of a sudden he is playing high-level basketball and eventually to Oregon and then the NBA. If he was 5'10 instead of 6'10", I doubt he gets that opportunity.

At the top tier of youth basketball you also have the sneaker companies getting involved, funding coaches and tournaments that find the best players and put them on the floor together. I don't know another sport that has that kind of corporate investment at the youth level.
 

DJnVa

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Both of my kids played travel soccer. My son played for a larger, well-established club, with multiple teams at each level and I paid approximately $2000/year for fees and that included entry into at least 2 tournaments. My daughter plays for a smaller travel club, one that doesn't even carry teams at each level, and for that I pay more like $600-700/year.

My son's teams were more competitive at a higher level, but even there we would see 2 groups of kids: those that were good enough and could afford it and those who were not good enough and could afford it.

My son played at what was called "Black", which was the second level. The top level, "Red", was more expensive, and had more travel and tourney fees as they would travel all over to play, whereas we would play more regionally.
 
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Catcher Block

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Probably somewhere in 2003-2004, I was playing soccer almost year-round on the North Shore between club, indoor, school, and town league. My indoor, town/travel, and school teams were basically the same roster, and we were good enough, but none of us had the parents or coaches pressuring us. The club team I played for was very much the opposite--it was still local, but the head coach really pushed for us to punch above our weight against select teams and a couple of years of MAPLE that were less fun than the other soccer I'd been playing, and also my last before going off to private school. It wasn't really pay-to-play, but it was my only real taste of the select tiers of youth sports. There were no team cleats, warmup suits, embroidered equipment bags, etc. It was still a game, and like what was said above, I wouldn't have been playing if the cost was too high. I paid my Dad back the money for fancy white predator cleats which I think he still won't let me forget about.

More recently, living in Dallas for a few years really opened my up eyes to how bad it has become. We lived not far from a multi-field complex, and our local hotels and restaurants were overflowing on the weekends with traveling baseball and soccer teams, taking up whole parking lots with small equipment trailers and an armada of Texas Edition Tahoes and Suburbans. Without even knowing what the entry costs were to play in those leagues were, all I could see were dollar signs watching groups of middle schoolers walk around Chick-fil-a, decked out hundreds of dollars in Under Armor or Nike clothes, all done up with team logos and some variation of the name Hunter, Rider, or Jaden. At the risk of judging a book by its cover, it was painfully obvious in those moments that there were kids good enough to justify paying to play, and kids whose parents paid enough to be considered good.

Texas is probably a more extreme example than what might happen in other states, but it certainly wasn't limited to team sports. We had our daughter taking dance and gymnastics class for fun at a local gym, and were asked if we wanted to do any travelling to showcases out of state. Our daughter was 4 at the time. That was a hard no from me and my wife.
 

Section30

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I played in the 80's and coached in the early 90's. Back then I was playing on club team that traveled throughout CA. It was around $500 a year. The select teams would have the best players chosen from the the clubs and were funneled to the best coach's at each level. These teams would travel to more tournaments and even internationally. The cost for the select teams was in the thousands with gifted but poor kids getting support from the organization as a whole.

I assistant coached at the U15 and U17 level and we toured Canada and Mexico. I talked to parents who were spending $5,$7, $10 thousand a year.

It was organized and connected to major Universities and technique camps for Goal Keepers. We had meet and greets with National team players as well as scrimmages with teams from across the US with top coaches watching and critiquing each players game.

I never had a player reach the pro level other than a couple that played for minimal money in the Major indoor soccer league in 91-92.
 

wade boggs chicken dinner

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Both of my kids played travel soccer. My son played for a larger, well-established club, with multiple teams at each level and I paid approximately $2000/year for fees and that included entry into at least 2 tournaments. My daughter plays for a smaller travel club, one that doesn't even carry teams at each level, and for that I pay more like $600-700/year.

My son's teams were more competitive at a higher level, but even there we would see 2 groups of kids: those that were good enough and could afford it and those who were not good enough and could afford it.

My son played at what was called "Black", which was the second level. The top level, "Red", was more expensive, and had more travel and tourney fees as they would travel all over to play, whereas we would play more regionally.
Sounds like we have the same kid. :)

My biggest gripe about the youth soccer system is that despite all of the money we throw at the "program," my son doesn't really play a lot. He does 2x (sometimes 3X) training/skills practice but the actual playing is limited to generally one (sometimes but not often more) 40 minute running clock games and whatever scrimmages happen at practice (fortunately, our "program" is big enough that they can field multiple teams and have regular scrimmages).

My son, like yours, is on the "second level" team but I'm glad that he gets to play 90+% of the game rather than being "promoted" and having to sit on the bench for long stretches. I can't imagine anything worse than shelling out all of the money and having your kid sit during games.

I wish someone would figure out the best thing that could happen is for teams to go to one spot and just scrimmage all afternoon as opposed to having tournaments with refs and the like. I'm sure, however, that would cut into the money aspect.
the kids don't get to play enough. Pre-pandemic, a couple of parents on my son's team pushed to get their kids into the upper level and were successful but their kids don't play a ton. I told my son I'd much rather have him play 90% of the game at a lower level than 40% of an upper level game.

But to me, they just don't play enough given the financial and time commitment. They do structured practices for 2-3 hours a week, though they do have scrimmages, and then from one to four (not often) games on weekends. So less than five hours a week playing. I'd much rather take my kid somewhere to play pick-up soccer all afternoon but can't really find anything. I also wish instead of tournaments, they'd get teams together and have them play pickup games all afternoon but I guess the teams and most parents need something more structured to justify the dollars.
 

wiffleballhero

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The profit motive has slowly been destroying youth sports for decades. I think we've discussed this in the coaching forum before.

This Atlantic article adds more to the conversation than I am about to, except I'll merely say that as a parent I can see it with my own eyes -- totally unremarkable kids from money get opportunities that talented (but broke) kids have no realistic shot of overcoming, not only because they don't get the opportunities for training, coaching, travel, equipment, etc. but they are also priced out of playing against -- and giving the righteous beat-down to -- these wealthy, snot nosed kids (and it would be so richly deserve if they could).

I get it that many of us on SoSH are actually probably part of the problem. Hell, I was part of the problem with one of my daughters with soccer. But it is bad. We live in a society where virtually all children could grow up enjoying these games and finding a couple that become part of lifelong habits of healthy living and a meaningful way of spending time with other people, as well as a way to learn and experience teamwork and camaraderie. Instead, we've monetized it, privatized it, and ruined it for everyone except those who can pay in.

Every sport except basketball has become the equivalent of what (I think for anyone over 40 or so) you would only think about with tennis -- being good says at least as much about opportunity as talent.

The problem compounds too because countless kids never even bother getting started with the sports because they are so far behind the 8 ball as the pay-to-play system guts the community support for free programs. Honestly, youth sports are like a Betsy DeVos fever dream.

 
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Kliq

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The profit motive has slowly been destroying youth sports for decades. I think we've discussed this in the coaching forum before.

This Atlantic article adds more to the conversation than I am about to, except I'll merely say that as a parent I can see it with my own eyes -- totally unremarkable kids from money get opportunities that talented (but broke) kids have no realistic shot of overcoming, not only because they don't get the opportunities for training, coaching, travel, equipment, etc. but they are also priced out of playing against -- and giving the righteous beat-down to -- these wealthy, snot nosed kids (and it would be so richly deserve if they could).

I get it that many of us on SoSH are actually probably part of the problem. Hell, I was part of the problem with one of my daughters with soccer. But it is bad. We live in a society where virtually all children could grow up enjoying these games and finding a couple that become part of lifelong habits of healthy living and a meaningful way of spending time with other people, as well as a way to learn and experience teamwork and camaraderie. Instead, we've monetized it, privatized it, and ruined it for everyone except the those who can pay in.

Every sport except basketball has become the equivalent of what (I think for anyone over 40 or so) you would only think about with tennis -- being good says at least as much about opportunity as talent.

The problem compounds too because countless kids never even bother getting started with the sports because they are so far behind the 8 ball as the pay-to-play system guts the community support for free programs. Honestly, youth sports are like a Betsy DeVos fever dream.

I think when we are having this conversation we need to evaluate the differences in what we are expecting kids to get out of sports. If you are trying to make your kid the best athlete possible, the cost can be exorbitant, and wealthier parents feed into it by willingly shelling out thousands of dollars for camps, coaches, club tournaments in other states, etc. However, I believe that there are still places and options for kids (and parents) who want to get more basic enjoyment out of sports.

Growing up as a late millennial, I loved playing sports but my parents never put down serious money for me to play them. I played basketball and soccer at the local level and for my high school team. I grew to love the game(s) and got plenty of exercise as a kid while also building those basic life skills you can get out of sports. If my parents had paid thousands for me to play club soccer and have a private coach, I maybe could have played soccer at a higher level (but probably not much higher, I'm a pretty limited athlete) but I don't think I would have gotten any more skills or joy out of sports than I did playing at the local level.

Stories like in The Atlantic, or this Time article tend to focus on the concept that parents are motivated by making their kid into the best athlete. Obviously, people that come from wealthier backgrounds are going to garner some advantages that wealth affords itself too, just like how in other fields wealthier parents can pay for fancy music lessons to make their kids better musicians, have them take rigorous SAT prep course or send them to pricey independent schools to get into better colleges, etc. However, I think they conflate two seperate ideals to somewhat exaggerate the problem.

If you want your kid to be the best, then you absolutely are at a disadvantage in the current system. If you simply want your kid to enjoy playing sports and develop proactive life habits, then I don't think it is particularly difficult or expensive to find that in American youth sports. For some sports that naturally have a high cost-of-entry, like golf or skiing, they are exceptions, but for most sports I still believe they can be participated in for relatively little money.

If you want your kid to be the best for whatever reason (college scholarship, general motivation to help your kid succeed, competitiveness with other parents, etc.) then the American sports model is a significant problem. If you want your kid to enjoy and play sports, that aspiration is still attainable for most families. It doesn't cost $5,000 a year to PLAY a sport, it simply costs that much if you want your kid to compete at an elite level. That is still is a problem and puts certain families at a disadvantage, but I don't think there is a problem in this country where merely playing sports is an unattainable goal for everyone except the wealthy.
 

Dummy Hoy

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I paid ~$500 for my son to play town U8 hockey this year. We didn't play on the traveling team (the Mite A), although he's good enough to do so. He's one of the best couple of kids in the league, which is a mix of mostly town/regional programs and one club program. I play with/against one of the guys who coaches the club team, and while we were having beers after our men's league game one night he suggested my son come play for their club. I told him I liked being able to coach him myself ("oh you can come coach too!") but that I wasn't paying stupid money for an 8 year old to play hockey. He said they pay $2000 a season...yes their uniforms are nicer, and I think they get a couple extra sheets of ice a month, but GTFO. When I laughed and he asked what I paid I said "I pay around 5." He looked shocked and said "$5000?!"
 

Over Guapo Grande

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I didn't intend this to be an indictment of soccer, that is just my experience. I was never a good enough basketbal player to be anything other than the 8th man off the bench when our coach ran a 12 man rotation. One of my "cousins" (our parents were best friends in college) was a gymnast and then went to VTech where she was a diver. She is now closer to 50 than she is to 40, but I can imagine that path would cost proportionally more today than it did 30 years ago. I appreciate all of the responses, though
 

Over Guapo Grande

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For Basketball folk- @reggiecleveland can maybe answer this best.... what is the year round cost to "get noticed" ? And does a kid from Podunk (State/Territory/Province) have a chance to "make it" if they can't afford to showcase their talents?
 

PC Drunken Friar

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If you want your kid to be the best, then you absolutely are at a disadvantage in the current system. If you simply want your kid to enjoy playing sports and develop proactive life habits, then I don't think it is particularly difficult or expensive to find that in American youth sports. For some sports that naturally have a high cost-of-entry, like golf or skiing, they are exceptions, but for most sports I still believe they can be participated in for relatively little money.
But local sports leagues are having a hard time finding enough kids to play and enough parents to run them. In the Atlantic article, only 37% of the lowest income families played a sport in 2011, where the % of wealthier kids participating is increasing. (And I can't imagine it has gotten better in the last ten years)
 

TrotWaddles

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I was D1 soccer. Wife was D1 track and field. Kids are swimmers. Middle kid is nationally ranked (sectionals/jr nats cuts) and a player in the final pool TX 6A state championship for a few events as a sophomore . A freak in other words. At this point, I am stuck in an aquatic cult that sucks ten thousand dollars a year out of pocket and every available discretionary minute with no end in sight. There is simply no path for people without higher incomes to succeed in this sport. Trust me...I've been searching in vain. There is no structure at the city, state, or national level to include others who can't afford the programs. It's all on the family. One thing I though of is to perhaps push the public schools sport down to the middle school level to expand the number of potentials but the simple reality is that the kids from well off areas are entering the clubs at 7-8 yrs old. The Atlantic article is unfortunately very much true.
 

Deathofthebambino

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I could probably write a thesis on this topic, but a lot of points have already been covered. I graduated high school in 1994 and to say it was a different world than what my now 13 year old boy and 10 year old girl are going through would be the understatement of all understatements.

In high school, I was a 3 spots athlete, baseball, basketball and football. Gave up basketball after sophomore year, which is when I started playing football, so I was playing 2 varsity sports at all times. Growing up, if there were club teams for baseball, we didn't know about them. There was little league, rec teams, school teams and the summer "all star" traveling teams. I grew up in Bedford, MA, which was a pretty small town all things considered, but very, very competitive in baseball at the time, and we played over 100 games a year growing up from about the age of 8-16. You started in late March/early April with the town rec team, and then played through the entire summer until August on various other teams. These weren't club teams, and they had minimal entry fees. The town provided bats and helmets and balls, etc. The bats were dented, but if you needed one (and every kid), you had one.

I now live in Andover, which has arguably the most competitive public high school sports program in the state. They would be even stronger if they didn't lose about 25% of the town's kids, and most of it's best athletes, to private schools. We learned early on that if your kid wasn't playing year round, they would basically have no chance to compete, never mind even make the team at the high school level. As a kid who literally lived and breathed sports and loved my high school years as a result of it, I found the entire thing to be truly awful. I didn't want my son or daughter to be forced to "specialize" in a sport by the time they were 8 and commit to playing that sport year round. Even baseball is played year round here, indoors through the winter months, so no games, just months and months of 3-4x a week practices. Kids that spent the entire winter playing baseball still couldn't catch a fly ball because well, the ceilings aren't high enough and the gyms aren't big enough to actually teach outfield fly balls.

My son got into swimming at a young age, and my daughter got into synchronized swimming as a result of his swimming, yeah, it's fucking expensive, but that's the only way to compete in these sports because the school season is about 8 weeks long for swimming, and there is no synchronized swim program at the high school level around here. My son is in the pool 5x's a week, 2 hours a day, and my daughter 4x's a week, 3 hours a day. They absolutely love it (my son just got a varsity letter as a 7th grader in his private school, which is also an extremely competitive program). The money and travel to compete in these sports are ridiculous, but the options are limited. I've hopefully convinced my son to give up baseball, but he really wants to remain in at least one team sport, however there just aren't enough hours in the week for that, along with swimming, and he also plays quite a bit of golf (although that's something he can do on his own time regularly given our proximity to the course) in the spring/summer/fall. The reality is that even if he did stick with baseball, the odds of him playing at the high school level are slim as hell, because he'd be competing with kids who play baseball year round like he swims. As much as I love going and watching him play the sport I love, and he's pretty good at it, a decision has to be made, and I feel like I'd rather have him stop now on his own terms rather than stretch himself so thin and then when he finally reaches where he really wants to play, he gets cut from the team anyway.

Don't get me wrong, it feels like every day, my family is part of the problem, but we didn't create it, and we need to do what we can for our kids within the framework we've been given. My kids tried soccer, hated it, we let them quit. My daughter quit softball. My kids never had any desire to play hockey (which is another sport on par with swimming/synchro as far as time/money/travel). I want my son to quit baseball, so we certainly aren't the type of parents that force our kids to play something they don't like or don't want to do, but if your kids love a sport the way ours do with swimming/golf, I don't know any way in a place like Massachusetts, where you aren't spending a small fortune to give them the best chance they have to be competitive and maybe actually play something in high school.
 

Kliq

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But local sports leagues are having a hard time finding enough kids to play and enough parents to run them. In the Atlantic article, only 37% of the lowest income families played a sport in 2011, where the % of wealthier kids participating is increasing. (And I can't imagine it has gotten better in the last ten years)
This is a fair point. At any level, a key part of organized youth sports is relying on the volunteer efforts of parents to assist in the running of leagues and teams. Teams in lower income areas/neighborhoods are typically going to have fewer parents available for volunteer efforts for a number of reasons. Transportation is also probably an important factor.

I've posted about it before, but I'm fascinated a bit by my own experience playing travel soccer in the 2000s/2010s. My team was comprised of what I assume would be mostly lower-income children (almost everyone else on the team was a first or second generation immigrant, many lived in housing projects, etc.). I don't know exactly what income bracket everyone was in, so this is just an observation from 14 year old Kliq, so take it with a grain of salt.

The involvement from parents for my teams growing up was pretty low. We would only have a few parents at our games (almost always outnumbered by parents from whatever town we were playing, which were usually wealthier suburbs) and if we had to travel to a game; a majority of my teammates would ride their bikes to a meeting spot and then caravan in the minivans or SUVs driven by the coach and a few of the parents. I think the lack of parental involvement first came from the fact that those parents were simply not available, a lot of them had to work weekends, which may not be the case for wealthier, suburban parents. The second would be cultural differences; the parents may have recently immigrated to America and did not have the same kind of insane commitment to children's activities that hardened Americans have.

Conversely, my twin sister played on the girls teams of the same program, and the makeup of the team was completely different. Everyone was white, the parents were super-involved with all of them traveling to games, gigantic chart that coordinated which parent brought which snacks each week, etc. It was the same town, same league, same age range, but the difference in demographics made a huge impact on how involved parents appeared to be.
 

RedOctober3829

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The youth sports system in this country is broken. I grew up playing all local sports and no travel teams. It's become an elitist activity that on many levels have nothing to do with sports itself. It's a ego measuring contest between people just so they can say they are on this so-and-so team and that so-and-so team. It used to be that only hockey was this way because you had to travel around to different places because there aren't many places that have high-level hockey. Now it's soccer, basketball, and lacrosse and 7v7 football among many others in which you have to pony up big bucks for travel leagues and showcase events.

I consider myself very lucky. Whenever my kid is old enough to start sports, I have college coaches in pretty much any sport who I know who can work him out privately if asked and I can bring him in to practice in nice facilities. Those said coaches also have connections to or work for the best club and AAU teams in the area I live in so I don't anticipate having any issues getting my kid onto teams. However, the overarching point of the travel system is what it is. It prices the lower income families out of trying to better their kids. They are the families who need the help when it comes to scholarship money.
 

Deathofthebambino

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I was D1 soccer. Wife was D1 track and field. Kids are swimmers. Middle kid is nationally ranked (sectionals/jr nats cuts) and a player in the final pool TX 6A state championship for a few events as a sophomore . A freak in other words. At this point, I am stuck in an aquatic cult that sucks ten thousand dollars a year out of pocket and every available discretionary minute with no end in sight. There is simply no path for people without higher incomes to succeed in this sport. Trust me...I've been searching in vain. There is no structure at the city, state, or national level to include others who can't afford the programs. It's all on the family. One thing I though of is to perhaps push the public schools sport down to the middle school level to expand the number of potentials but the simple reality is that the kids from well off areas are entering the clubs at 7-8 yrs old. The Atlantic article is unfortunately very much true.
FTR, I was typing my post when you posted, but obviously, we're in the same boat (or swimming alongside it).
 

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I was D1 soccer. Wife was D1 track and field. Kids are swimmers. Middle kid is nationally ranked (sectionals/jr nats cuts) and a player in the final pool TX 6A state championship for a few events as a sophomore . A freak in other words. At this point, I am stuck in an aquatic cult that sucks ten thousand dollars a year out of pocket and every available discretionary minute with no end in sight. There is simply no path for people without higher incomes to succeed in this sport. Trust me...I've been searching in vain. There is no structure at the city, state, or national level to include others who can't afford the programs. It's all on the family. One thing I though of is to perhaps push the public schools sport down to the middle school level to expand the number of potentials but the simple reality is that the kids from well off areas are entering the clubs at 7-8 yrs old. The Atlantic article is unfortunately very much true.
I could probably write a thesis on this topic, but a lot of points have already been covered. I graduated high school in 1994 and to say it was a different world than what my now 13 year old boy and 10 year old girl are going through would be the understatement of all understatements.

In high school, I was a 3 spots athlete, baseball, basketball and football. Gave up basketball after sophomore year, which is when I started playing football, so I was playing 2 varsity sports at all times. Growing up, if there were club teams for baseball, we didn't know about them. There was little league, rec teams, school teams and the summer "all star" traveling teams. I grew up in Bedford, MA, which was a pretty small town all things considered, but very, very competitive in baseball at the time, and we played over 100 games a year growing up from about the age of 8-16. You started in late March/early April with the town rec team, and then played through the entire summer until August on various other teams. These weren't club teams, and they had minimal entry fees. The town provided bats and helmets and balls, etc. The bats were dented, but if you needed one (and every kid), you had one.

I now live in Andover, which has arguably the most competitive public high school sports program in the state. They would be even stronger if they didn't lose about 25% of the town's kids, and most of it's best athletes, to private schools. We learned early on that if your kid wasn't playing year round, they would basically have no chance to compete, never mind even make the team at the high school level. As a kid who literally lived and breathed sports and loved my high school years as a result of it, I found the entire thing to be truly awful. I didn't want my son or daughter to be forced to "specialize" in a sport by the time they were 8 and commit to playing that sport year round. Even baseball is played year round here, indoors through the winter months, so no games, just months and months of 3-4x a week practices. Kids that spent the entire winter playing baseball still couldn't catch a fly ball because well, the ceilings aren't high enough and the gyms aren't big enough to actually teach outfield fly balls.

My son got into swimming at a young age, and my daughter got into synchronized swimming as a result of his swimming, yeah, it's fucking expensive, but that's the only way to compete in these sports because the school season is about 8 weeks long for swimming, and there is no synchronized swim program at the high school level around here. My son is in the pool 5x's a week, 2 hours a day, and my daughter 4x's a week, 3 hours a day. They absolutely love it (my son just got a varsity letter as a 7th grader in his private school, which is also an extremely competitive program). The money and travel to compete in these sports are ridiculous, but the options are limited. I've hopefully convinced my son to give up baseball, but he really wants to remain in at least one team sport, however there just aren't enough hours in the week for that, along with swimming, and he also plays quite a bit of golf (although that's something he can do on his own time regularly given our proximity to the course) in the spring/summer/fall. The reality is that even if he did stick with baseball, the odds of him playing at the high school level are slim as hell, because he'd be competing with kids who play baseball year round like he swims. As much as I love going and watching him play the sport I love, and he's pretty good at it, a decision has to be made, and I feel like I'd rather have him stop now on his own terms rather than stretch himself so thin and then when he finally reaches where he really wants to play, he gets cut from the team anyway.

Don't get me wrong, it feels like every day, my family is part of the problem, but we didn't create it, and we need to do what we can for our kids within the framework we've been given. My kids tried soccer, hated it, we let them quit. My daughter quit softball. My kids never had any desire to play hockey (which is another sport on par with swimming/synchro as far as time/money/travel). I want my son to quit baseball, so we certainly aren't the type of parents that force our kids to play something they don't like or don't want to do, but if your kids love a sport the way ours do with swimming/golf, I don't know any way in a place like Massachusetts, where you aren't spending a small fortune to give them the best chance they have to be competitive and maybe actually play something in high school.
Good news as a parental survivor of two swimmers up through high school and one who is still swimming D3 in college - the cost does come to an end. There really isn't much of a choice though because you're paying to swim club all year then travel to whatever regionals/age groups/etc., then splash fees at those meets, then of course they need to have one of those cool tie dyed hoodies at those meets right? One thing USA swimming finally did to help families on cost a little was banning tech suits for under 12s. It's bad enough seeing high school aged kids wearing them at a dual meet when they're swimming a 27 second 50 free but seeing a 10 year old in a $600 suit used to drive me crazy, especially when it didn't fit right and looked more like a drag suit.

More good news for you @TrotWaddles - your middle one will probably turn a positive ROI with a D1 scholarship. I've seen a few kids my daughter swam with get scholarships to schools in the Big 10, a couple Ivies and Notre Dame to name a few. They were jr. natl swimmers and then on to olympic trial swimmers. I'm sure you already know this though since if they're a sophomore that recruiting is already underway, right? I know the younger sister in a family my kids swam with just declared to an Ivy and she's a junior.
 

Deathofthebambino

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Apr 12, 2005
33,762
Good news as a parental survivor of two swimmers up through high school and one who is still swimming D3 in college - the cost does come to an end. There really isn't much of a choice though because you're paying to swim club all year then travel to whatever regionals/age groups/etc., then splash fees at those meets, then of course they need to have one of those cool tie dyed hoodies at those meets right? One thing USA swimming finally did to help families on cost a little was banning tech suits for under 12s. It's bad enough seeing high school aged kids wearing them at a dual meet when they're swimming a 27 second 50 free but seeing a 10 year old in a $600 suit used to drive me crazy, especially when it didn't fit right and looked more like a drag suit.

More good news for you @TrotWaddles - your middle one will probably turn a positive ROI with a D1 scholarship. I've seen a few kids my daughter swam with get scholarships to schools in the Big 10, a couple Ivies and Notre Dame to name a few. They were jr. natl swimmers and then on to olympic trial swimmers. I'm sure you already know this though since if they're a sophomore that recruiting is already underway, right? I know the younger sister in a family my kids swam with just declared to an Ivy and she's a junior.
It's funny you bring that up, as my son's club coach was all over him to get a tech suit this past week. He literally turned 13 yesterday, so now he can wear one. I told him when he breaks a 25 second 50 free, he can have one. His fastest time is around 27 seconds in the 50 free as a 12 year old/7th grader this year, so we've got some time. If the kid would put on about 20-30 pounds of muscle, he could actually be really good (he's 5'5 and about 92 pounds due to the amount of exercise he gets from swimming and his insanely good eating habits for a kid his age, basically eats no sweets, no pizza, just protein and carbs and a lot shakes to get more nutrients into him as he hates vegetables). I have no idea if we'll ever see a ROI for him like Trotwaddles may with his kid, but my daughter and synchronized swimming is another story. She's already swimming for the US National 12 under coach as a recently turned 10 year old and was supposed to be spend 6 weeks in Vegas training with the team last summer. Thank you COVID for cancelling that fucking bill....
 

Doug Beerabelli

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Concur with pretty much everything here. A combo of parental insecurity, and the reality that if the goal is to give your kid the chance to play at the highest levels, you likely have to pay up. It's very hard to say "no" to what the travel teams and more expensive sports ask of families in order to participate, and that "ask" starts incredibly young, as some of you have described.

But as Kliq said, I think there's a way to participate in sports at a reasonably affordable level year round. I can give these examples from my kids' experiences in my fairly well off suburb in CT:

Fall: Soccer. Local rec league about $150. Mid-lower tier travel was about $225 once aged out of rec. Premier type stuff was more if your kid was good enough. Some pro coaches, more green guys, but were good for the level of talent/play. Could also do Fall rec baseball for about $125 ish.
Winter: Hoops - rec leagues were about $150. Parent coached. To compare, our local travel league was about $400.
Spring-->Summer.: Baseball: about $150-$200 for LL. Parent coached. Our town also had a travel program that started at age 8. That would soup to nuts be about $750 to $1250, not including travel costs for overnight tournaments. I coached that from 8u through 14u, but also am on Ex. Bd of local LL, so I saw the prices. A summer rec baseball league would be about $125. Spring soccer was about same cost as Fall soccer.

We have popular local football and lacrosse programs, too, that are in line with expected costs for those somewhat more expensive sports. Ice hockey is how described here - not cheap, never was. Swimming is big in my town, and there are a couple good local clubs, and costs are as described here (not cheap). Lax and hockey are year round, though. I'm not sure what sports aren't these days.

If you just want a kid to participate in a variety of sports, and get some exercise, play for a team, have some fun, and not have all your weekends and vacations controlled or defunded by a travel team commitment (or catch shit from team if you decide to vacation anyway), it can be done. Unfortunately, this likely does not transfer well to areas with less organization, resources, and volunteer support.

I got off relatively cheap for awhile, but my son switched to full time commit to golf last year. He's a sophomore this year. This is a much more isolated journey, and his parents are learning more and more about the "game" of getting noticed or recruited for college in this sport. It's essentially a high level travel team cost, with various local, regional and national Junior "tours" (with costs to join the tour, and per tournament costs). and a national and worldwide ranking system, recruiting services if you use them, private lessons, a sets of clubs that cost more than my first car etc. And the kicker -- except for invitiationals and limits on participants in a tourament, there's not real barrier to playing if you can afford it.

Ergo...it, and we, are part of the problem described here. I'm hoping First Tee continues to be an effective way to introduce more kids to golf in an affordable way, and keep them playing in an affordable manner. In addition, the PGA Jr League, which is like a Little League for golf, has a pretty reasonable cost if you can find a program in your area ($200 IIRC, probably less in some instances). My kids did both when younger, and they are wonderful programs.

All this being said, we got a raise when my daugther graduated from HS and ended her competitive dance career (that's another discussion altogether). That cost was comparable to continuing daycare.
 

Time to Mo Vaughn

RIP Dernell
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Mar 24, 2008
4,951
As the parent of a 2.5 year old and a 4.5 year old, this thread is fairly depressing. I grew up playing BAYS (Soccer) and Little League. In High School, I played Soccer and then picked up Indoor and Outdoor track, which I ended up being pretty good at. I am (was?) super excited to get the kids into youth sports last spring for both the opportunity to share some of my hobbies and to meet more families in town with young kids to expand our social circle. COVID prevented that all from happening, but I'm ready to say fuck maybe I should just buy them gaming computers now so they can become Fortnite/League of Legends stars, seems like a healthier community.
 

TrotWaddles

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Jan 23, 2004
952
San Antonio, TX
Good news as a parental survivor of two swimmers up through high school and one who is still swimming D3 in college - the cost does come to an end. There really isn't much of a choice though because you're paying to swim club all year then travel to whatever regionals/age groups/etc., then splash fees at those meets, then of course they need to have one of those cool tie dyed hoodies at those meets right? One thing USA swimming finally did to help families on cost a little was banning tech suits for under 12s. It's bad enough seeing high school aged kids wearing them at a dual meet when they're swimming a 27 second 50 free but seeing a 10 year old in a $600 suit used to drive me crazy, especially when it didn't fit right and looked more like a drag suit.

More good news for you @TrotWaddles - your middle one will probably turn a positive ROI with a D1 scholarship. I've seen a few kids my daughter swam with get scholarships to schools in the Big 10, a couple Ivies and Notre Dame to name a few. They were jr. natl swimmers and then on to olympic trial swimmers. I'm sure you already know this though since if they're a sophomore that recruiting is already underway, right? I know the younger sister in a family my kids swam with just declared to an Ivy and she's a junior.
When your kid starts going in the low 20s on the 50 free, you'll start to hear from club coaches about sponsorships. It was a banner day when the wife told me that the national level swimmers in the club were sponsored by Arena and Speedo for the tech suits. When i found out those suits are good for only 15 races or so and cost $300-400 on sale, I was ready to murder someone. And yes, the official recruitment begins first day of junior year but we hear unofficially from the colleges at the meets. I'm hoping it pays off for him but am dismayed at the time and money that goes into all of this. A world apart from just being an athletic kid in the 80s.
 

reggiecleveland

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Mar 5, 2004
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I can't find it online, and a soccer pal of mine said it may have been buried by soccer Canada. But, soccer is number 1 participation sport in Canada, and based on number of participants, elite clubs, etc we should be doing better. By those metrics our men should be knocking on the world cup door and we never get in. I believe soccer Canada did not change anything noting the success of the women's team, that of course ignores that most of the world puts little effort into women's sport, and that most of our best players come from the NCAA.

They hired a guy from Europe who spent 12 months travelling around. His report though was scathing. I remember the few bullet points.

1. Coaches care about winning more than skill development, often at ridiculously young ages
2. The expense and expectation of time commitment drive away many athletes

3. Many coaches at higher levels have risen by recruiting, talent acquisition not coaching skill.
4. Players are grouped as young as age 6/7 into talent groups

The linked makes many of the same points

 
Jul 31, 2005
37
I think this problem of escalating costs and resources goes hand in hand with the other huge youth sports problem: everything is organized and nothing is pickup/informal play. Is the point of youth sports to develop the next generation of professional athletes, or are sports supposed to provide growth for all the kids? It seems to me that a lot of the "soft" skills that pick-up sports develop are way more important than the "hard" technical skills that organized sports tend to focus on. Choosing teams, settling arguments among the kids, creating local versions of games, and involving multiple ages all seem like Lake Wobegon stuff these days. I think the loss of informal sports is one of the reasons for rising rates of behavioral health problems in this country. Kids don't practice nearly as much solving their own problems and creating their own solutions, so they don't have those skills to draw upon as adults. Broad strokes, here, obviously.
 

Kliq

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Mar 31, 2013
14,146
I can't find it online, and a soccer pal of mine said it may have been buried by soccer Canada. But, soccer is number 1 participation sport in Canada, and based on number of participants, elite clubs, etc we should be doing better. By those metrics our men should be knocking on the world cup door and we never get in. I believe soccer Canada did not change anything noting the success of the women's team, that of course ignores that most of the world puts little effort into women's sport, and that most of our best players come from the NCAA.

They hired a guy from Europe who spent 12 months travelling around. His report though was scathing. I remember the few bullet points.

1. Coaches care about winning more than skill development, often at ridiculously young ages
2. The expense and expectation of time commitment drive away many athletes

3. Many coaches at higher levels have risen by recruiting, talent acquisition not coaching skill.
4. Players are grouped as young as age 6/7 into talent groups

The linked makes many of the same points

All of these same criticisms have been made against the US soccer system as well, and have been credited with being at fault for the USMNT for failing to qualify for the World Cup in 2018. There is a lot of validity to those criticisms, but kind of a funny thing has happened. Around a year or two ago, when the rage of missing the WC was at its zenith and everyone was in a tizzy about what a failure the US soccer system is, the US came up with a wave of teenagers who have already become some of the most accomplished players in the history of US Soccer, and the US now features regular starters for the biggest clubs in the world, including Chelsea, Barcelona, Borussia Dortmund and Juventus. While the US system certainly has flaws and can improve, it also has to be acknowledged that the country is turning out talent at an unprecedented level and the rest of the world is really beginning to notice, as European clubs are scooping up promising American teenagers left and right.

Canada is in a similar position; and while you don't have the same amount of prospects due to having a much smaller population, you guys are in pretty good shape. The best fullback in the world might very well be a 20 year old Canadian in Alphonso Davies. There are other very promising Canadian players on the horizon, so I think you guys are in really good shape and should start making some noise at the international level very soon.
 

Kliq

Member
SoSH Member
Mar 31, 2013
14,146
I think this problem of escalating costs and resources goes hand in hand with the other huge youth sports problem: everything is organized and nothing is pickup/informal play. Is the point of youth sports to develop the next generation of professional athletes, or are sports supposed to provide growth for all the kids? It seems to me that a lot of the "soft" skills that pick-up sports develop are way more important than the "hard" technical skills that organized sports tend to focus on. Choosing teams, settling arguments among the kids, creating local versions of games, and involving multiple ages all seem like Lake Wobegon stuff these days. I think the loss of informal sports is one of the reasons for rising rates of behavioral health problems in this country. Kids don't practice nearly as much solving their own problems and creating their own solutions, so they don't have those skills to draw upon as adults. Broad strokes, here, obviously.
I once did a story on a local dad who basically organized pick-up games for kids 10-12 years old. His basic point was that in the summer you could either plunk down $200 for your kid to play AAU, which was only eight games, or you could have your kid just play games for free at the park. A few adults would help organize the teams and substitutes, but the kids were encouraged to call their own fouls and keep score and develop those kind of social skills without parents being involved. It was a really good idea, they ended up getting like, 40 kids at a time showing up on summer nights.
 

Section30

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Aug 2, 2010
986
Portland OR
I read several articles about Christian Pulisic and his development being more informal following his father around Europe. He would have some structure on various teams but he would also consciously play pickup games wherever he was.

I am a pick-Uncle to two swimmers. Their drive was amazing, the boy was good enough to swim for Riverside College in CA on scholarship. He missed the Olympics by 3 one-hundredths of a second. He was mad that he stopped growing at 6'-2". The sister was a fish. She competed against high school girls when she was 13 and won the state championship in three events. At 14 she got tired of the pressure that coachs were putting on her plus the negative social pressure by the older girls. She switched to Cross country eventing (Horseback riding) and qualified as an alternate for the US Olympic team. After high school she dropped the riding and is pre-law at Columbia.

They only swam for their public schools, they deliberately didn't go the club route and it worked for them.
 

Shelterdog

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Feb 19, 2002
12,642
New York City
Proud dad to two NYC based female swimmers (10 and 8) and for a sport with essentially no equipment the mind bogles at the financial cost. Many of the better swimmers have also done a reasonable number of private lessons, video sessions and the like and those definitely help, but the costs go sky high. Plus the time committment... starting roughly next fall the 10 year old will have 5:30 AM every.single.wednesday.morning. half an hour away.

Don't want to complain and I think it's great--swimming has been incredible for the 10 year old and good for the 8 year old--but the ROI of this sport is negative for parents.
 

riboflav

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Jan 20, 2006
8,098
NOVA
The profit motive has slowly been destroying youth sports for decades. I think we've discussed this in the coaching forum before.

This Atlantic article adds more to the conversation than I am about to, except I'll merely say that as a parent I can see it with my own eyes -- totally unremarkable kids from money get opportunities that talented (but broke) kids have no realistic shot of overcoming, not only because they don't get the opportunities for training, coaching, travel, equipment, etc. but they are also priced out of playing against -- and giving the righteous beat-down to -- these wealthy, snot nosed kids (and it would be so richly deserve if they could).

I get it that many of us on SoSH are actually probably part of the problem. Hell, I was part of the problem with one of my daughters with soccer. But it is bad. We live in a society where virtually all children could grow up enjoying these games and finding a couple that become part of lifelong habits of healthy living and a meaningful way of spending time with other people, as well as a way to learn and experience teamwork and camaraderie. Instead, we've monetized it, privatized it, and ruined it for everyone except those who can pay in.

Every sport except basketball has become the equivalent of what (I think for anyone over 40 or so) you would only think about with tennis -- being good says at least as much about opportunity as talent.

The problem compounds too because countless kids never even bother getting started with the sports because they are so far behind the 8 ball as the pay-to-play system guts the community support for free programs. Honestly, youth sports are like a Betsy DeVos fever dream.

Ever been to an AAU basketball tourney? It's like a damn funeral in there. Everyone is miz but for several overzealous, overrated coaches.
 

riboflav

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Jan 20, 2006
8,098
NOVA
Varsity basketball coach here. Have coached over 100 players at the high school level. I'd bet a good amount that at least 80 of the 100 sets of parents would say they regret the amount money and time they wasted on youth sports (if they're not self-rationalizing).

I have a son about to turn 9 and I keep him far away from top-down organized youth sports. He's loves sports and knows the ins and outs of the three major sports really well. That's all I care about. The majority of kids his age who are "good" (no one really is at 9) and play a lot of organized sports will have quit by 10th grade.
 

LoweTek

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May 30, 2005
1,748
Central Florida
I coached/managed rec baseball teams of all ages (8U to 18U) except T-Ball for almost 20 years (never my own kid on the team or in the system). I don't have time right now but I'll have quite a lot to say about this subject when I do.

Basic thesis: this shit is ruining youth sports. I'll get back to you all.
 

Doug Beerabelli

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Agreed on crew. You can even start in college and be pretty good. I did it 3 years for the school’s club program, which anyone could do. I was not good, but a cox and one rower, who has gotten married, later competed in the Olympic trials.

I also agree on the lack of pickup game opportunities when younger contributes to the current situation. I recall as a kid most of the play was this, and thus the actual organized games were limited, but special and meaningful. But the most fun was getting together with friends to play. I’ll never say no when my son asks if I can give him a ride home because he wants to play hoops with friends after school.
 

Leather

given himself a skunk spot
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Jul 18, 2005
26,771
I could probably write a thesis on this topic, but a lot of points have already been covered. I graduated high school in 1994 and to say it was a different world than what my now 13 year old boy and 10 year old girl are going through would be the understatement of all understatements.

In high school, I was a 3 spots athlete, baseball, basketball and football. Gave up basketball after sophomore year, which is when I started playing football, so I was playing 2 varsity sports at all times. Growing up, if there were club teams for baseball, we didn't know about them. There was little league, rec teams, school teams and the summer "all star" traveling teams. I grew up in Bedford, MA, which was a pretty small town all things considered, but very, very competitive in baseball at the time, and we played over 100 games a year growing up from about the age of 8-16. You started in late March/early April with the town rec team, and then played through the entire summer until August on various other teams. These weren't club teams, and they had minimal entry fees. The town provided bats and helmets and balls, etc. The bats were dented, but if you needed one (and every kid), you had one.

I now live in Andover, which has arguably the most competitive public high school sports program in the state. They would be even stronger if they didn't lose about 25% of the town's kids, and most of it's best athletes, to private schools. We learned early on that if your kid wasn't playing year round, they would basically have no chance to compete, never mind even make the team at the high school level. As a kid who literally lived and breathed sports and loved my high school years as a result of it, I found the entire thing to be truly awful. I didn't want my son or daughter to be forced to "specialize" in a sport by the time they were 8 and commit to playing that sport year round. Even baseball is played year round here, indoors through the winter months, so no games, just months and months of 3-4x a week practices. Kids that spent the entire winter playing baseball still couldn't catch a fly ball because well, the ceilings aren't high enough and the gyms aren't big enough to actually teach outfield fly balls.

My son got into swimming at a young age, and my daughter got into synchronized swimming as a result of his swimming, yeah, it's fucking expensive, but that's the only way to compete in these sports because the school season is about 8 weeks long for swimming, and there is no synchronized swim program at the high school level around here. My son is in the pool 5x's a week, 2 hours a day, and my daughter 4x's a week, 3 hours a day. They absolutely love it (my son just got a varsity letter as a 7th grader in his private school, which is also an extremely competitive program). The money and travel to compete in these sports are ridiculous, but the options are limited. I've hopefully convinced my son to give up baseball, but he really wants to remain in at least one team sport, however there just aren't enough hours in the week for that, along with swimming, and he also plays quite a bit of golf (although that's something he can do on his own time regularly given our proximity to the course) in the spring/summer/fall. The reality is that even if he did stick with baseball, the odds of him playing at the high school level are slim as hell, because he'd be competing with kids who play baseball year round like he swims. As much as I love going and watching him play the sport I love, and he's pretty good at it, a decision has to be made, and I feel like I'd rather have him stop now on his own terms rather than stretch himself so thin and then when he finally reaches where he really wants to play, he gets cut from the team anyway.

Don't get me wrong, it feels like every day, my family is part of the problem, but we didn't create it, and we need to do what we can for our kids within the framework we've been given. My kids tried soccer, hated it, we let them quit. My daughter quit softball. My kids never had any desire to play hockey (which is another sport on par with swimming/synchro as far as time/money/travel). I want my son to quit baseball, so we certainly aren't the type of parents that force our kids to play something they don't like or don't want to do, but if your kids love a sport the way ours do with swimming/golf, I don't know any way in a place like Massachusetts, where you aren't spending a small fortune to give them the best chance they have to be competitive and maybe actually play something in high school.
I grew up in Andover, played little league in the late 80s, early 90s. Same deal: we had the town rec league, then the "majors" (i.e. you had to 'try out'), and the summer "all star" team. That was it. And if you played in the town rec league vs the "majors", it didn't really matter much once you go to high school because the "majors" was not significantly more rigorous; some of the kids in the rec league were just as good as the kids in the "majors", they just never bothered to try out because the rec league was fun and had more of their friends, or their dad coached, or whatever.

Now I live in Minneapolis and my kids are 8 and play baseball and hockey. Hockey is obviously a big thing here, and for a few years we paid the $600-800 a year, each, for them to play in the Mite league, but this year between Covid and the fact that it was becoming increasingly obvious that my kids just weren't interested in hockey enough to play it year round like probably 2/3 of the Mite kids did (at 8 years old!), which made them fall further behind, which made them less interested... we opted for rec hockey this year. $100/kid. Now, Mites has all indoor practices and games while rec plays mostly outside with some games indoors, and their season is probably 40% longer, which is a big difference. However, for purely entertainment and "get your ass out of the house and get some exercise and have some fun", the rec hockey is perfect. My kids routinely score hat tricks now, whereas before they'd be lucky to get 2 shots on goal, so they actually enjoy themselves. So while the dream of getting a hockey scholarship is dead (it was never really alive in the first place), they're having fun and will be good enough at skating and stick handling to always be able to play a fun game of pickup with their buddies, if they ever so choose. Also: no fucking dibs, and oh yeah...$1,400 saved. THAT SAID, there is a part of me that feels like the system is slightly crooked, that even by age 8, kids who haven't had parents willing/able to sign up for summer leagues and fall clinics are essentially relegated to also-ran status. There are some parents who start their kids playing later, but the conventional wisdom is that if you don't get your kid on the ice with a stick by age 7 at the absolute latest, you can forget about being a "serious" hockey player. And that's just fucking sad.

Baseball is a little more complicated. We have the city rec league, and also a city club league (Millers). The rec league is like $50 a kid. The club league has a "developmental" division which is basically a more intensive city league, with more practices and slightly better players. But they also have age-grouped travelling teams, starting at 10U, each with 3 divisions (A, AA, AAA). It's about $400/kid, which isn't bad. My kids are trying out for a travelling team this year, which is insane to me (not in a bad way, necessarily) given that I didn't even start playing baseball until I was a year older than they are.

Aside from cost, I think a big part of navigating the youth sports landscape is simply being fortunate enough to have someone guide you in the right direction. For hockey, my former boss tipped me off that 5 year olds would enroll in a program sponsored by the NHL that gave the kids 5 practices and all the pads and gear for $100. For baseball, someone told my wife about the Millers. Had he not, I'd never have even known about them because, like you, I just figured everything was run through the community like when I was a kid until you get to high school.
 
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Deathofthebambino

Drive Carefully
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Apr 12, 2005
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I grew up in Andover, played little league in the late 80s, early 90s. Same deal: we had the town rec league, then the "majors" (i.e. you had to 'try out'), and the summer "all star" team. That was it. And if you played in the town rec league vs the "majors", it didn't really matter much once you go to high school because the "majors" was not significantly more rigorous; some of the kids in the rec league were just as good as the kids in the "majors", they just never bothered to try out because the rec league was fun and had more of their friends, or their dad coached, or whatever.

Now I live in Minneapolis and my kids are 8 and play baseball and hockey. Hockey is obviously a big thing here, and for a few years we paid the $600-800 a year, each, for them to play in the Mite league, but this year between Covid and the fact that it was becoming increasingly obvious that my kids just weren't interested in hockey enough to play it year round like probably 2/3 of the Mite kids did (at 8 years old!), which made them fall further behind, which made them less interested... we opted for rec hockey this year. $100/kid. Now, Mites has all indoor practices and games while rec plays mostly outside with some games indoors, and their season is probably 40% longer, which is a big difference. However, for purely entertainment and "get your ass out of the house and get some exercise and have some fun", the rec hockey is perfect. My kids routinely score hat tricks now, whereas before they'd be lucky to get 2 shots on goal, so they actually enjoy themselves. So while the dream of getting a hockey scholarship is dead (it was never really alive in the first place), they're having fun and will be good enough at skating and stick handling to always be able to play a fun game of pickup with their buddies, if they ever so choose. Also: no fucking dibs, and oh yeah...$1,400 saved. THAT SAID, there is a part of me that feels like the system is slightly crooked, that even by age 8, kids who haven't had parents willing/able to sign up for summer leagues and fall clinics are essentially relegated to also-ran status. There are some parents who start their kids playing later, but the conventional wisdom is that if you don't get your kid on the ice with a stick by age 7 at the absolute latest, you can forget about being a "serious" hockey player. And that's just fucking sad.

Baseball is a little more complicated. We have the city rec league, and also a city club league (Millers). The rec league is like $50 a kid. The club league has a "developmental" division which is basically a more intensive city league, with more practices and slightly better players. But they also have age-grouped travelling teams, starting at 10U, each with 3 divisions (A, AA, AAA). It's about $400/kid, which isn't bad. My kids are trying out for a travelling team this year, which is insane to me (not in a bad way, necessarily) given that I didn't even start playing baseball until I was a year older than they are.

Aside from cost, I think a big part of navigating the youth sports landscape is simply being fortunate enough to have someone guide you in the right direction. For hockey, my former boss tipped me off that 5 year olds would enroll in a program sponsored by the NHL that gave the kids 5 practices and all the pads and gear for $100. For baseball, someone told my wife about the Millers. Had he not, I'd never have even known about them because, like you, I just figured everything was run through the community like when I was a kid until you get to high school.
I tried to pm you about another topic, but your profile is private (didn't even know that was an option). The Andover baseball "little league" is set up quite differently now. For 7-12 year old kids, the rec league is AA, AAA and then Majors. They have tryouts for majors, which is basically all 12 year olds, and some 11 year olds, and some really, really good kids that are younger than that. On a normal, non-COVID year, each of the 3 divisions has 10-12 teams. Then for the 10-12 year olds, you have districts (that's the team that has a chance to compete for the LL World Series) and there are 2 district teams due to the size of the town. Then once that ends, the summer "traveling" all-star teams start. Then after that, there are more traveling leagues that kids play in. Bay States, Merrimack Valley, etc. All of them have different levels of competition. Then we have the parents who have broken off from the town rec/little league program who have started their own "Cal Ripken" teams because they want to try to stack their teams with other kids that are very good, diluting the little league and district teams. The politicization is awful. It's why I'm always an assistant coach, who never attends meetings or anything like that because I'm just not that guy. I want my kid to go out and have fun, and if the plays well, then great, if he plays like shit, get them the next time. But if you aren't enjoying it, don't do it. Mind you, none of the above are "club" teams, so I would guess 30+ kids from each age are also playing club on top of these teams, and the club runs year round. All summer long, the constant refrain is "Jimmy can't pitch, because he pitched for his club team over the weekend and Johnny can't catch tonight because he caught yesterday, etc."

It's just so, so much different than when we were growing up.
 

Leather

given himself a skunk spot
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Jul 18, 2005
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I tried to pm you about another topic, but your profile is private (didn't even know that was an option). The Andover baseball "little league" is set up quite differently now. For 7-12 year old kids, the rec league is AA, AAA and then Majors. They have tryouts for majors, which is basically all 12 year olds, and some 11 year olds, and some really, really good kids that are younger than that. On a normal, non-COVID year, each of the 3 divisions has 10-12 teams. Then for the 10-12 year olds, you have districts (that's the team that has a chance to compete for the LL World Series) and there are 2 district teams due to the size of the town. Then once that ends, the summer "traveling" all-star teams start. Then after that, there are more traveling leagues that kids play in. Bay States, Merrimack Valley, etc. All of them have different levels of competition. Then we have the parents who have broken off from the town rec/little league program who have started their own "Cal Ripken" teams because they want to try to stack their teams with other kids that are very good, diluting the little league and district teams. The politicization is awful. It's why I'm always an assistant coach, who never attends meetings or anything like that because I'm just not that guy. I want my kid to go out and have fun, and if the plays well, then great, if he plays like shit, get them the next time. But if you aren't enjoying it, don't do it. Mind you, none of the above are "club" teams, so I would guess 30+ kids from each age are also playing club on top of these teams, and the club runs year round. All summer long, the constant refrain is "Jimmy can't pitch, because he pitched for his club team over the weekend and Johnny can't catch tonight because he caught yesterday, etc."

It's just so, so much different than when we were growing up.
Thanks for the head's up. I fixed my profile if you want to PM.

That sounds awful. All I remember from little league in Andover circa 1990 was that 12 year olds weren't allowed to pitch and all the teams (when I played) were named after birds. And there were maybe 8 teams in each tier.

It's a fine line, trying to decide when pushing your kid to be better will make them happier in the long run vs. keeping it loose. For baseball, for us, it's been pretty easy because every time I ask if they want to play in a "better" league, they say yes. And every year they get better and get frustrated when they encounter the limitations of the league, like not being able to steal, or not being able to lead off, etc... But for hockey it was obvious that it wasn't fun anymore. Even then, because we'd become part of the hockey community for their age group, and knew the parents and the kids, it was hard for my wife to quit the Mite league. I really had to advocate for dropping down to the rec league, and were it not for COVID, we probably would still be doing Mites. The social pressures and parenting anxiety is pervasive and by design.
 

h8mfy

lurker
Jul 15, 2005
309
Orange County, CA
I always felt slightly bad about my relief that none of my kids were really good enough to get into this level of youth sports, but even at the lower levels it was expensive, time consuming and very hard on the rest of the family. Here in SoCal we have lots of friends who have one “star” athlete and the rest of the family pays a price in parental attention, being dragged to endless games, and funds being spent disproportionately.

Someone above mentioned crew as an option. My son was a four-year varsity lacrosse player in HS but when he got to UCSB he decided to try rowing because he missed being on a team and had a ball. My biggest thrill as a sports parent was watching his boat win at the Western regionals and go on to Nationals, in his first and only year.
 

luckiestman

Son of the Harpy
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Jul 15, 2005
19,660
I read several articles about Christian Pulisic and his development being more informal following his father around Europe. He would have some structure on various teams but he would also consciously play pickup games wherever he was.

I am a pick-Uncle to two swimmers. Their drive was amazing, the boy was good enough to swim for Riverside College in CA on scholarship. He missed the Olympics by 3 one-hundredths of a second. He was mad that he stopped growing at 6'-2". The sister was a fish. She competed against high school girls when she was 13 and won the state championship in three events. At 14 she got tired of the pressure that coachs were putting on her plus the negative social pressure by the older girls. She switched to Cross country eventing (Horseback riding) and qualified as an alternate for the US Olympic team. After high school she dropped the riding and is pre-law at Columbia.

They only swam for their public schools, they deliberately didn't go the club route and it worked for them.
This could be an excerpt from David Epstein’s book Range.

 

reggiecleveland

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For Basketball folk- @reggiecleveland can maybe answer this best.... what is the year round cost to "get noticed" ? And does a kid from Podunk (State/Territory/Province) have a chance to "make it" if they can't afford to showcase their talents?
Short answer. I can get a talented kid noticed with an animated GIF.

Direct answer, and you can skip my detailed answers below. For a kid to get skilled enough to have chance he should play in the summer, and that goes 300-1000 a summer. Probably by sophomore year he needs to be playing hoops all year. There are lots of really good people that don't charge anything. Most teams though are funded by middle class parents, who often cover costs for other kids. The non paying kids, sadly need to be talented, most of the time. Mostly really good people, honestly helping kids. But there are teams with 18 kids dressed where the coach takes an "honorarium" and some kids are paying twice as much as others, and hardly playing. But, generally talent leaps out and kids get noticed. My kid played summer ball for 4 years but got noticed and recruited during highschool. The summer ball helped him improve. 'Getting noticed' is a farce IMHO. If a kid can play somebody will find him. Physical talent is the separator. I am pretty sure the USA is similar, except many more serious coaches, many levels, younger ages.

Just read the first paragraph for the brief answer, below lie details!!!

Covid has me delaying my retirement options. But, for years I have resisted taking the money people want to throw at me and other coaches to get their kid to the next level. Part of it is moral, most kids don't have the talent. But, after thousands of hours coaching for free, or not much, I am (probably) ready to cash in. But, generally talent gets found. For example I am about as low as you be in pro basketball coaching, assistant summer league, older guy not interested in being career coach, etc. But, I get yearly contacts from a few agents (usually questions about a guy playing in this college conference) college coaches, Juco guys, etc. In return I talk to elementry PE teachers, coaches, guys who run summer camps, asking about stud athletes. My, end mostly wanting to find kids spots, with good guys on summer teams.

But most of the time it flows up. You have a player, know a player, you contact the coach. Good coaches cultivate contacts they trust. This is usually the calls I get, coaches that trust me ask about a kid they heard about. There are times I contact a college coach, 'Hey this kid's parents want to play at your school, here's a film, looking at your roster, not sure he can make it, but here you go.' Tons of resentment over recruitment. I will hear, "Reggie got this kid a workout but not my kid!" when one kid was just better. Since I am back in highschool, college guys that know me, assume if I don't tell them about a kid he is not a prospect. This is lazy. As a college coach we asked everyone every year. We didn't have a tryout we had a week long workout with out of province guys in for a weekend. If nothing else there are dedicated coaches doing this. Send the kid there to get noticed.


I am out of the loop with the USA recently, but athleticism and talent get noticed. Look at Jalen Brown, not considered a college superstar but Danny recognized his physical ability was NBA elite and spent a lotto pick on an all star.

There are measurables that get players noticed. My son threw a certain speed on a baseball trip to Arizona as a 15 year old that we had JUCOs in the USA send us form letters. Kids throwing more strikes at the same speed, NCAA emails, the kid that threw in the 80s got a phonecall. The lefty threw strikes in the 80s got invites to camps.

Hoops size ("length" is the new jargon, in part because people want the next KD more than the next Shaq) gets you noticed. If you are not 6'2 you better be a rocket. But if you are a rocket (extreme speed quickness) you can be small. I coach a Sophomore about 5'9 that coaches already want. Lightning. Just leaps off the film. Can you dunk? really short list for next level hoops. Only 1 is about skill.
Rockets
Dunkers
Over 6'6

Everyone wants bigs. There are just fewer 6'9+ guys, and everybody wants 3 or 4 on their team. As a young smartass highschool coach I made up a fictional kid 'Smokey' for tournament programs. 6'8 freshman grew an inch each year. When I got to the tournament I told people he was being disciplined. He went from 18ppg, 10 rpg, to 37/20 as a 6'11 Sr. But always skipped school, swore at teacher, punched a cop, etc. Never made the trip. Spring of his fictional Sr year my phone rings, 'Hey coach this is _______________ San Diego State, now I understand Big Smokey has had his troubles, but the Aztecs believe in 2nd chances, and would like to contact him." I mean he was in a program at Moose Jaw Saskatchewan and they found him.

Generally throwing money at getting kids recognized is a fool's errand. If money mattered most of the NCAA, NBA wouldn't be black kids. Lots of people thinking the constant competition is bad for kids. But talent always wins. I coach a Jamaican kid that is 7th Day Adventist . No Friday, Saturday before sundown hoops. Never any summer ball. Every time I send a film out coaches ask me about him. Just superior athlete. There are kids, athletic kids, that have played 500 games of summer ball, parents have dropped 10 grand on basketball. Good players. Not wanted.
 
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RedOctober3829

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Jul 19, 2005
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deep inside Guido territory
Another issue with youth sports these days is every parent and coach seems to be obsessed with winning and losing and not as concerned with skill development. The amount of games played at the pre-teen level is insane. There should be twice as much practice and skill development time as there are games played if not more. The year-round specialization is killing youth sports too. I can not imagine telling a 9-year old kid that you have to choose what sport to play for the rest of their childhood. In baseball it is why the amount of Tommy John surgeries in pre-teens and teens are at an all-time level. A good friend of mine is one of the most popular orthopedic surgeons in my area and he's sickened by the amount of baseball parents who are choosing to and are OK with electing to have TJ surgery even if they don't really have to have it.
 

PC Drunken Friar

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Sep 12, 2003
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Growing up in Framingham, we had a very good Little League (Actually, Little Big League? We never could compete for the LL WS). Every level had double digit teams (and even American and National Leagues). There was T-ball, peanut (coaches pitch), minor (players pitch), major and Babe Ruth. I was in those leagues from K-9th grades (my dad fudged some paperwork to get me in a year early...so the normal route was grades 1-9). It was so much fun. And it was developmental. There were no "records" until Majors (6th and 7th grades, usually). And developed! My first game in T-Ball, I hit the ball...and ran thru the pitcher's mound to 2nd base. By the last game (or maybe 2nd to last, whatever...) I distinctly remember fielding a ground ball, knowing the bases were loaded and ran home to tag the plate to get the out.

Everyone played in these leagues. Once you moved up to the Majors, there were tryouts and a draft. It wasn't until summer leagues that they had travel teams. These leagues prepared me so much for HS baseball. I can't imagine doing the travel route for all those childhood years.

Hockey and Basketball were roughly the same, but hockey had much more specialized teams, I think? I was just as content playing on the "house" teams. But those teams had enough talent to produce top high school level (and some college) level athletes who didn't go the Junior route.
 

reggiecleveland

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Another issue with youth sports these days is every parent and coach seems to be obsessed with winning and losing and not as concerned with skill development. The amount of games played at the pre-teen level is insane. There should be twice as much practice and skill development time as there are games played if not more. The year-round specialization is killing youth sports too. I can not imagine telling a 9-year old kid that you have to choose what sport to play for the rest of their childhood. In baseball it is why the amount of Tommy John surgeries in pre-teens and teens are at an all-time level. A good friend of mine is one of the most popular orthopedic surgeons in my area and he's sickened by the amount of baseball parents who are choosing to and are OK with electing to have TJ surgery even if they don't really have to have it.
This is 100% true. If kids are talented they can try to progress in wo sports after age 15. My kid is playing college basketball, but I think he had more potential in baseball, but he basically had to quit high school basketball to throw in the winter. On the other side of things very athletic kid at my school made that choice, and didn;t play hoops for me.

In Canada kid choose hockey, often as young as 7 or 8. I know kis that will never play baseball, basketball, touch football, because they are on the ice all year. Orthos around here are treating kids with hip problems because they never take a break from skating.
 

robssecondjob

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Jul 18, 2005
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My younger son suffered from the "he didn't play in the expensive pay league" in basketball. He chose soccer over playing AAU ball in the spring when he was younger. After that he sat on the bench at all the town league games as the AAU players always got the playing time. Despite being a much better player.

Stayed that way until high school when tryouts started with the coach saying "I don't care what team you played for in the past, you earn the spot on this team". He is a starter now, well at least until he destroyed his leg earlier this year (ACL, PCL, meniscus and three fractures!).
 

dcdrew10

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Dec 8, 2005
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Washington, DC via Worcester
I live in the DC area, so a lot of factors are amplified; cost, intensity, parental jackassery. I have three kids, my oldest (14) is a competitive rock climber and my youngest (7) recently was invited to try out for and join an acrobatic gymnastics team. My middle kid doesn't care for structured competitive sports, but he does rock climb with me and take parkour classes. Thank god; I spend close to $8k per year for his siblings sports teams and that doesn't count uniforms, shoes, travel expenses, national governing body fees, etc. That's probably another $1000/year. Both sports have a direct pathway to international competition. There are “local” competitions, regional/state comps, and division/multi-region comps, national level comps, and the international comps.

Rock climbing seems to be the sanest of the two. It’s intense and some of the teenagers my son competes against are professionals who make money, travel the world and are fighting for Olympic births, some are sponsored, who get free gear and exposure and the rest are regular kids. My son practices 3 days a week, 8-10 hours total one or two does visits a week to the gym on his own time. Their coaches are certified trainers, so they do targeted workouts, get lessons on nutrition and sports psychology. Climbing gets obsessive for some kids, they spend every free minute in the gym. Despite this, the long-term skills are invaluable. Kids learn about dealing with failure and problem solving, because the only way to know how good you are is to keep trying harder climbs and working out the ways to improve their top climbing grade. There are also some great lessons on dealing with fear.

My daughter's gymnastics is another story. There are 4 levels of teams; Platinum, Gold, Silver, Bronze, and Ruby. The Platinum kids are world championship level gymnasts. They practice 4-5 hours per day, 6 days a week, workout on their own time, and the injury rate is fairly high. It's disturbing to see 15 year old girls who wear elbow and knee braces like 10 year NFL o-line vets. The coaches are insanely hard on the kids and any slip in skill or injury you can't push through gets you dropped down a team level or two. It's expensive, time consuming and the completions are next level. I am doing a makeup tutorial today because each team member has to have the exact same makeup. So far, the best lessons I see from gymnastics are work hard to be perfect and if you are not perfect work even harder. It's important, but I worry about the kids getting pushed too far or burnt out.

Sports in the DC area are insanely competitive and expensive. There's a lot of money and a lot of pressure to be the best. Prep school programs recruit the best of the best, though there are some kids who don't go that route. $35k/year high schools are not uncommon. But you do get a lot of options, if you have money. There is organized rugby down to age 7, fencing, sailing, rock climbing, in addition to traditional sports like basketball and football.
 
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reggiecleveland

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I will see if I can find it, probably lost. But I had a kid who wrote a fantastic poem called "At the Rink."

The poem was about all the things he didn't do because he was "at the rink" and alluding to there be no other world, and that now at age 16 he was no longer "wanted at the rink" how he only go to "a rink" and how he could have done Disneyworld, the birthday parties, and still gone to "a rink."

Kid was a good high school football player, but there are more than a few kids that resent childhood lost.
 

GreenMonsterVsGodzilla

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SoSH Member
I live in the DC area, so a lot of factors are amplified; cost, intensity, parental jackassery. I have three kids, my oldest (14) is a competitive rock climber and my youngest (7) recently was invited to try out for and join an acrobatic gymnastics team. My middle kid doesn't care for structured competitive sports, but he does rock climb with me and take parkour classes. Thank god; I spend close to $8k per year for his siblings sports teams and that doesn't count uniforms, shoes, travel expenses, national governing body fees, etc. That's probably another $1000/year. Both sports have a direct pathway to international competition. There are “local” competitions, regional/state comps, and division/multi-region comps, national level comps, and the international comps.

Rock climbing seems to be the sanest of the two. It’s intense and some of the teenagers my son competes against are professionals who make money, travel the world and are fighting for Olympic births, some are sponsored, who get free gear and exposure and the rest are regular kids. My son practices 3 days a week, 8-10 hours total one or two does visits a week to the gym on his own time. Their coaches are certified trainers, so they do targeted workouts, get lessons on nutrition and sports psychology. Climbing gets obsessive for some kids, they spend every free minute in the gym. Despite this, the long-term skills are invaluable. Kids learn about dealing with failure and problem solving, because the only way to know how good you are is to keep trying harder climbs and working out the ways to improve their top climbing grade. There are also some great lessons on dealing with fear.

My daughter's gymnastics is another story. There are 4 levels of teams; Platinum, Gold, Silver, Bronze, and Ruby. The Platinum kids are world championship level gymnasts. They practice 4-5 hours per day, 6 days a week, workout on their own time, and the injury rate is fairly high. It's disturbing to see 15 year old girls who wear elbow and knee braces like 10 year NFL o-line vets. The coaches are insanely hard on the kids and any slip in skill or injury you can't push through gets you dropped down a team level or two. It's expensive, time consuming and the completions are next level. I am doing a makeup tutorial today because each team member has to have the exact same makeup. So far, the best lessons I see from gymnastics are work hard to be perfect and if you are not perfect work even harder. It's important, but I worry about the kids getting pushed too far or burnt out.

Sports in the DC area are insanely competitive and expensive. There's a lot of money and a lot of pressure to be the best. Prep school programs recruit the best of the best, though there are some kids who don't go that route. $35k/year high schools are not uncommon. But you do get a lot of options, if you have money. There is organized rugby down to age 7, fencing, sailing, rock climbing, in addition to traditional sports like basketball and football.
So I'm really curious about how the path to high-level competition gets laid out in the first place. My kids are too young (2 and 5) yet to be doing anything competitively, but from everything I hear, the potential moment is not too far away. I'm also in DC, but I imagine in a different geographic and financial situation. My wife and I both work in the arts, she's been laid off because of COVID, costs in DC are through the roof, etc. etc. - the point being, we're not likely to be in the position to spend big bucks on sports. Philosophically, I'm not super inclined either. I played soccer from around 7 up through HS, and picked up volleyball in high school. Good enough to play varsity at least one year of each, but at a school where it was almost a lock to do so by Senior year. In all honesty, I was a mediocre - as in literally, middle of the pack - athlete. But I value that I played sports tremendously, and I want that for my boys. Anything more than that, it would have to come from them... and at this point, I'm not feeling like they're going to be pushing hard when they're older.

And yet... I keep thinking about this one incident. My older son loves the water - was dunking his head under at 2 or so and swam on his own, with floaties, not long after. He was in day camp 2 summers ago, and one day when I picked him up, his counselor came up to me and told me he thought he was really good for his age, he also taught lessons, and he'd love to teach him. I could totally see a path where we sign him up for doing this thing he loves; he's starting early, so maybe he gets pretty good (despite whatever genetic disadvantages he might have, and then... what? Where does the pressure come from?

Obviously you can only speak from experience but would love to hear what you've seen.
 

wade boggs chicken dinner

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Mar 26, 2005
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There are some parents who start their kids playing later, but the conventional wisdom is that if you don't get your kid on the ice with a stick by age 7 at the absolute latest, you can forget about being a "serious" hockey player. And that's just fucking sad.
Yeah, I've heard this a couple of times and it just feeds into the insanity and it's absolutely not true if by "serious" you mean "world class." See there's one thing about ATHLETES - they are good at picking up stuff. Really good athletes are going to be really good at anything they put their mind to, and if they take up basketball at 13 and put in the work, they will be as good as anyone.

However, for the rest of us mere mortals, yeah getting on the rink at age 7 is probably going to make us decent at hockey. But most of us don't have the ability to go any further than that. If people really want to spend thousands of dollars so their kid can play D3 hockey that's fine but telling other people that they have to "be on the rink by age 7" is nonsense.

I bristle at this statement because the last time I heard it, I heard it from friends of mine who said that if their kid wasn't playing soccer by age 6, he "wouldn't have a chance." Well, the two parents are doctors and while they are great people they are remarkably non-athletic so in all likelihood, their kids don't have a chance. Neither does my son. But I'm not telling people to enroll in $2K a year soccer teams to give their kids a chance.

So I'm really curious about how the path to high-level competition gets laid out in the first place.
You can tell kids who have the ability and drive to compete at a high level pretty easily. The drive is super important as the stories people have been telling in this thread shows how much commitment it takes.

In my opinion, the best thing you can do for your kids is expose them to a bunch of different athletic endeavors. Teach them how to swim. Enroll them in dance classes. Take them rock-climbing. Find a ropes course. Put a golf club in their hand. Have them throw a baseball. Put them on ice skates and skiis. Take them paddleboarding. Etc. etc. etc. If they are talented and they find something to focus on, you'll know it. And if they put in the work and the practice, they'll get noticed.
 

dcdrew10

Member
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Dec 8, 2005
1,257
Washington, DC via Worcester
So I'm really curious about how the path to high-level competition gets laid out in the first place. My kids are too young (2 and 5) yet to be doing anything competitively, but from everything I hear, the potential moment is not too far away. I'm also in DC, but I imagine in a different geographic and financial situation. My wife and I both work in the arts, she's been laid off because of COVID, costs in DC are through the roof, etc. etc. - the point being, we're not likely to be in the position to spend big bucks on sports. Philosophically, I'm not super inclined either. I played soccer from around 7 up through HS, and picked up volleyball in high school. Good enough to play varsity at least one year of each, but at a school where it was almost a lock to do so by Senior year. In all honesty, I was a mediocre - as in literally, middle of the pack - athlete. But I value that I played sports tremendously, and I want that for my boys. Anything more than that, it would have to come from them... and at this point, I'm not feeling like they're going to be pushing hard when they're older.

And yet... I keep thinking about this one incident. My older son loves the water - was dunking his head under at 2 or so and swam on his own, with floaties, not long after. He was in day camp 2 summers ago, and one day when I picked him up, his counselor came up to me and told me he thought he was really good for his age, he also taught lessons, and he'd love to teach him. I could totally see a path where we sign him up for doing this thing he loves; he's starting early, so maybe he gets pretty good (despite whatever genetic disadvantages he might have, and then... what? Where does the pressure come from?

Obviously you can only speak from experience but would love to hear what you've seen.
For our kids the path was showing promise in basic kids classes in their respective sports. Our rock climber started going to the gym around 7 years old because he was always climbing things like trees, basketball hoops, etc. He started going to some Friday night climbing and games things. They scout kids for team there; he got into the rec program and then at 9 or so they suggested he try out for the climbing team and he made it. With the climbing team at that age there is a lot of emphasis on attitude and behavior, because people can get seriously hurt in climbing when people fuck around. My daughter did something very similar with gymnastics. She started taking tumbling classes at 5 and progressed through their program and then they offered her a tryout and a spot on the team, based off of her skills in the classes and overall attitude, too.

If your kid likes swimming, at least where we live in Rockville and MoCo, there are a lot of public pools that have swim programs year round that are fed by their swimming lessons program. At the Rockville swim center they progress you up to Swim Team Prep, which is run by the swim team assistant coaches and they recruit for the team through there; it's relatively affordable and a good way to get in to swimming. I have friends whose kids are on swim teams for their pool clubs, which is a bit more low key, but you usually have to be a member of the pool. I have a friend who is a former D1 swimmer at American University and on the Danish National Team and transitioned to a professional triathlete after his swim career ended who coaches kids and runs a youth triathlon team (though, not sure how COVID effected that). Swimming is a big deal in the DC area, local teams produced Katie Ledecky and Tom Dolan, among others.

The long story short on making it in a competitive DC area, if you're not Bethesda-Potomac-Capitol Hill-Alexandria types, you have to make sacrifies. My wife and I have good jobs, but I work a second job, we drive pretty basic cars and eschew fancy vacations, and cut things like cable TV and phones less than 3 years old. On the other hand our kids to are learning some pretty valuable lessons in work ethics and family sacrifies. I drove to Columbus, OH for a climbing comp and my teenager talked to me the whole ride, barely looking at his phone the whole 6 hours. It wasn't much of a vacation, but we did spend 3 days together at the comp and walking around a city we've never been, checking out used record store and playing guitars we'd never buy at a music store. It is probably a bit much in the end, since the likelihood of it being a career or paying for college is pretty slim, but if they are willing to put in the work, so am I.
 

dcdrew10

Member
SoSH Member
Dec 8, 2005
1,257
Washington, DC via Worcester
In my opinion, the best thing you can do for your kids is expose them to a bunch of different athletic endeavors. Teach them how to swim. Enroll them in dance classes. Take them rock-climbing. Find a ropes course. Put a golf club in their hand. Have them throw a baseball. Put them on ice skates and skiis. Take them paddleboarding. Etc. etc. etc. If they are talented and they find something to focus on, you'll know it. And if they put in the work and the practice, they'll get noticed.
For my family this is pretty much it; we had our kids in under 5 soccer, swimming lessons, learned to ride bikes at 5 and the biggest take away is giving them the confidence and physical ability to try whatever sport that comes up. And even through my kids likely won't make a career out of their sports we want to make physical activity a life-style for them. I was a sponsored triathlete in my teens and early 20s and was recruited for track and XC in college, but gave it up for club sports, parties, and girls. I always did something physical, be it running, hiking, biking, club football, skiing, rock climbing. It's the most important part of my life outside of my wife and kids. I hate my job, but it is manageable when I think about the things it allows me to do and my kids to do.