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Youth Sports

Youth Sports, They’ll Make you Crazy If You Let Them

By Chris Jordan

My kids are athletic. A trait most definitely not inherited from me. I come from a long line of people who prefer not to sweat, exert ourselves, or run– unless we are being chased by an angry knife wielding bear, and even then we may just lie down and hope for the best. Somehow I gave birth to people who love nothing more than being physically active.

So for the past decade or so I have witnessed youth sports first hand. I have seen the good, the bad, and oh-so ugly. My kids have had excellent coaches and they have had horrid coaches. We have had teams filled with parents who are lovely and supportive and those filled with back-stabbing complainers. And you know what? It has been across the board of both winning and losing teams.  I have seen men reliving their youth, or what they wish was their youth.  And I have heard others talking about the scholarships their kid is sure to receive, in ten years when they are old enough to actually attend college.

Here are a few short lessons I have learned.  Take them to heart before you sign your kid up.

1) Your kid isn’t going pro.

2) You cannot predict your child’s future athletic prowess by the way they perform at age 5 or 6. No really, you can’t. In the 12 years that I have been involved in youth sports I cannot tell you the number of kids I have seen who were phenoms in their early years, only to have the playing field rise to meet them a few years later. The reverse is also true. And I’m not even talking about once puberty hits and shakes everything up.  There will be parents who will go on and on about how great their kid is. Just smile, nod, and ignore them.  I always think to myself, if someone has to tell me how great their kid is that probably means it is only visible to them.

3) Don’t take it all so seriously. I had a coach ask me what position my then 5 yr old son played in baseball. No correction, it was t-ball. Position? They just learned to wipe their own butts are they really at an age where they should be locked into a specific position? Frankly watching 5yr olds play a sport is like watching puppies on crack. They all run for the ball and tackle each other to get it.

4) If you have valium take it before any games.

5) Unless you coach, your kid will never play as much as the coaches’ kids. Just accept that. Or you can sign up to be a coach. What, you say you have no knowledge of the sport your child wants to play? Pshaw! In my experience the only qualification that half of the coaches have is the ability to yell really loudly.

6) Your kid is probably not as good as you think he is. Keep it in perspective.

7) I read a statistic once, and I wish I could find the source now, that said less than 1% of all the kids currently playing youth sports will get a college scholarship. That might make you want to rethink the financial strategy of paying up to $1,000 per month on select teams and specialized lessons when you could invest that money and just pay for college.

8) This directly relates to number 4. Don’t be THAT parent. The crazy, screaming one who is coaching their kid from the sidelines and contradicting what the actual coach says. The one who argues calls with the umpire from the stands. The one who shouts disparaging things at the players on the other team. The one who fights with the parents of the players from the opposing team.

9) Let your child play more than one sport. Let them change their mind from year to year. Don’t make them specialize in one sport with the hopes that they will become the best (see #7 above). I remember when I was young that the athletic kids changed sports from season to season, now kids play football, baseball, soccer year round. Has it made them better? More skilled? I think the jury is probably out on that one. But I do know that overuse injuries are significantly higher in children than they ever were twenty years ago. Boys are having surgery to repair elbow damage at 12 years old that has previously only been seen in major league baseball pitchers.

And yet it is easy to get sucked in when you hear about what other parents are doing. It is easy to worry that you are putting your child at a disadvantage. But when thoughts like that invade my head I ask myself honestly, at a disadvantage for what? Winning another dust collecting trophy?

10) It is supposed to be fun.  Cheer for your kid.  Cheer for their team.  Wear the matching shirt/jersey/hat/whatever if it makes you feel good.  But above all, model good sportsmanship.  Maybe less than 1% of kids will get that scholarship, but I fully believe that 100% of them can be good sports.

Chris Jordan
About the Author

Chris Jordan

Chris Jordan began blogging at Notes From the Trenches in 2004 where she writes about her life raising her children in Austin, Texas.

Oh, she has seven of them. Yes, children. Yes, the...

Chris Jordan began blogging at Notes From the Trenches in 2004 where she writes about her life raising her children in Austin, Texas.

Oh, she has seven of them. Yes, children.
Yes, they are all hers.
No she’s not Catholic or Mormon. Though she wouldn’t mind having a sister-wife because holy hell the laundry never stops.
Yes, she finally figured out what causes it. That’s why her youngest is almost 6.
Yes, she has a television.

She enjoys referring to herself in the third person.

If you would like to submit a question for Chris to answer publicly, please do so to adviceforparentsoftweens[at]gmail[dot]com.

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  • Becca

    February 18, 2011 at 3:19 pm

    Yeah for #9. Starting in kindergarten I played soccer every fall. First grade introduced t-ball (softball starting in 3rd) every spring. Third grade brought about basketball in the winter. My mom started me in each of these as early as the programs allowed back then. Summer was all about swimming – lessons and free time at the the pool (no, never on a swim team).

    It wasn’t until 8th grade that I was allowed to play soccer instead of basketball & softball and that was only because by the time I did not make the school team it was too late to sign up for the community basketball league, but indoor soccer was still accepting players.

    I played because I enjoyed playing. My mom signed us up the first year for each sport, but kept us in the following years because we enjoyed it. We weren’t the best, but we went out and had a good time (well, usually :-)).

    I totally do not see that in today’s kids/sports (and I’m only pushing 30). We practiced once a week and (except in a few situations b/c of weather or tournaments) had games once a week. Indoor soccer had no practice – just games. Several of the kids I played with did the same thing and we were either on the same team or opposing teams, depending on the sport.

    Also, we never played on “select” teams. We were always on the local community recreational teams (except for my sister making 8th grade volleyball @ school).

  • Meg...CT

    February 18, 2011 at 3:29 pm

    I Stand and applaud you…
    I have had the exact same experience for 13 years!
    I read a similar statistic when my oldest son (who is 16) was just starting organized sports …so 12+ years ago.It was the same year that a neighbor told me that her husband wouldn’t let her son who is one year older than my son play lacrosse b/c “there was no money in lacrosse”
    I was STUNNED. I think I laughed and said something like, “wait, you actually think your child is going to play professional baseball?” I think she did. I broke their dreams that day…ooops!

  • z

    February 18, 2011 at 7:19 pm

    $1000 PER MONTH?!??!!?!?!  o.  m.  g.  

  • Sarah

    February 19, 2011 at 2:33 am

    Hurrah! Well said lady! my girls do gymnastics…..for fun….but those gym mums are sc-ar-y!

  • Heather (Laptops to Lullabies)

    February 19, 2011 at 10:36 am

    GREAT post! My baby is too young for sports yet, of course, but I’ve always been horrified at those wacko parents who are obsessed with their kids’ future sports careers. I don’t want to be a wacko!

  • Sue

    February 21, 2011 at 1:20 pm

    Grades, grades ,grades, even if your kid is the best on the field, if you can’t get in to the college you can’t get a scholarship! Only a very few who do not make the grade get in. After going through the recruiting process with my son (he is now a sophomore playing football on scholarship) We realized that while he was a talented Athlete, his A average was as important. I was very happy we had made school work a priority, as in you are not going to “play” until your home work is done.

  • meredith

    February 22, 2011 at 3:04 am

    In French middle schools, there aren’t any seasonal sports. If you sign up for soccer, it’s for the whole school year. Same for basketball, tennis, swimming, etc…Usually, your child just chooses one extra-curricular sport for the year. But, we do have the parents that sign their kids up for what seems like all the sports.

  • Aimee Giese | Greeblemonkey

    February 22, 2011 at 11:55 pm

    Soooooo true.

  • Stephanie

    March 2, 2011 at 10:12 am

    Chris, you are spot on. This is a great column! I wish we could make this required reading for the parents at our school, before they sign their children up. Thank you for putting this in perspective!

  • Cheri

    March 2, 2011 at 10:56 am

    Having just come out of basketball with my 7 and 5 year olds, I was soooo in tune with this article! Really, some of those parents have behavioral issues. Do they really think it’s OKAY to laugh at a 7 year old boy because he fell??? I was pretty much horror struck.
    And Does that crazy mom really think the ref should blow the whistle for every single double dribble out there? They are 7 years old, they are just learning how to dribble for heaven’s sake!

  • Half Hearted Hippie

    March 2, 2011 at 11:20 am

    I would like to print this out and give it to every parent I see at the soccer/baseball/football field. So much of this seems like common sense, but it must not be given the behavior I see from parents on a regular basis. 

  • Laura H

    March 2, 2011 at 12:32 pm

    I totally hear you! My 9 year old daughter is getting ready to play girl’s softball for the 3rd year. She has played soccer for the last 5 years. It is her choice; we do not push her into any of it. Especially the softball; every day during softball she will have either practice or a game. I was hoping (silently) that she wouldn’t want to play this year. When she said she wants to, I gently reminded her of the time commitment, and how hard it can be. She said “I know. I still want to play though.” sigh. I refuse to let my issues intrude on what she truly wants to do. So we are signing her up on Saturday. I’m wondering if my Dr would give me valium to get through this? LOL

  • angie

    March 2, 2011 at 6:03 pm

    I’m with you for the most part, but that 1% that got scholarships most likely started young and kept at it with due intensity. There is not such thing as a pro athlete who started playing in college, is there?

    That said, parents must put everything in perspective. It is not likely that your child will go pro, or even college…

  • Lisa

    March 3, 2011 at 8:54 am

    Love this post!!  #1…..oh my, so true!

  • Carol

    March 3, 2011 at 12:38 pm

    My daughter plays club volleyball and at one time played select basketball. I’m realistic enough to know that at 5’4″ it is astronomically unlikely that she will ever play either at a college level. My goal with her is to encourage her to play a sport she loves and to keep her busy enough that there are fewer opportunities for parties, etc. Fortunately, the costs have not be horrible, and I’ve always told her that when she doesn’t want to play anymore then I’m okay with that. After all, she is the one doing all the work! 🙂 It really is sad to see kids that only continue to play to please their parents, and most often these are the parents yelling the loudest most detrimental comments to their kids. In my opinion, the kids should be in it for the physical activity, development of skills both social and physical, and most of all the LOVE of the game.

  • bean counter

    March 3, 2011 at 2:18 pm

    My EX husband is #8, #3 and #10 and some more that you don’t list here. My son played a couple of sports but really excelled at soccer. He is good and could have been better if he had tried harder. His dad could not fathom the fact that he played for the fun of it, not as a career choice. Soccer, seriously, how many professional soccer players are out there? He did get a soccer scholarship to a junior college 7 hours from where we live. He ended up quitting the team halfway through the season because he could not keep up with school. His dad was livid. I am on the side of the fence that his education will get him farther than playing soccer at a 2 year junior college, which was not fun for him and he lost some of the love of the game. He did end up transferring back home to the university right here and is much happier and is playing on an adult co-ed league with some friend from high school. And having fun doing it.

  • Valerie

    March 5, 2011 at 10:39 am

    Love this! My baseball spectator days are over for my own son, but he’s now volunteering to help coach his old high school team so I might be convinced to head back to see a few games this spring.

    Item #2 was spot on. Aforementioned son had a friend who was a pitching phenom when he was 12. By the time he hit high school, his arm was pretty much shot. Another friend, however, started hitting his stride in late high school and is now in the farm system for the Milwaukee Brewers. We’re crossing our fingers for him!

    One thing I would add from my experience (and it goes along with #5), youth sports are notoriously “cliquish” when it comes to the parents. If you don’t have the right last name or (heaven forbid) you’re a single parent, expect your child to be passed over for traveling teams and such. My son still managed to accomplish a lot in 12 years of playing baseball and he knows that everything was the result of his own hard work and not who his father was.

  • inthefastlane

    March 6, 2011 at 11:24 am

    I just happened to be writing about the most positive group of sports parents I had seen in a long time, on the same day I read this post.  So, I linked to the article in my post.

    Also – I know people who send their kids to expensive “prep” boarding schools to increase their chances of a division 1 college scholarship.  But, wait…if you are paying for this “prep” school, why do you need a college scholarship???

  • Nikki

    March 6, 2011 at 8:21 pm

    I read this at just the right time.  Was thinking about letting my little guy (age 7) drop out of spring baseball b/c a) he doesn’t love it and I will admit that I kind of pushed him into it b/c I love baseball so much and b) there’s some punk-a$$ dad out there who isn’t making it too much fun for anyone.  So, I decided that we’re going to stick with it because we made a commitment to the team, but I will be on hand to tone down the craziness.  Not sure I’ll have the guts to speak up and address him directly, but I can surely let my kid (and others) know that they’re out there to learn the game and have fun!

  • hokgardner

    March 7, 2011 at 1:16 pm

    My husband and I were both full-time professional coaches in our respective sports, and how I wish we had had something like this available to pass out to the team parents. It would have been wonderful.

    Now that my kids are involved in sports, I’m doing my best to make sure their participation is about them and their dreams, not me and mine. 

  • Carrie

    March 7, 2011 at 8:03 pm

    Bravo- to note though, parents should not be allowed to bitch about coaches. If they don’t like the coach, they need to step up and coach!

  • Liberty

    March 8, 2011 at 6:19 pm

    Headed into baseball season here (tryouts 3/12- for little league, mind you) and so loved this piece. Would making copies of this and handing them out to every single parent on my 4 sons’ teams make me THAT parent?!

  • Laura

    March 10, 2011 at 3:26 pm

    There’s a huge sign at the swim club where my daughters swim. Basically – you can do one thing at a time. If you’re a parent, be a parent. If you’re a coach, be a coach. You can’t be both simulaneously.

  • Cathy

    April 10, 2013 at 10:40 pm

    Thank you for this article. My daughter plays Club soccer in Florida where the seasons must be 10 months long (a preseason, regular season and a post season). The NFL doesn’t even have that long of a season. I believe Florida has become notorious for pushing kids into one sport due to the warm weather all year long. It is so frustrating, especially when you want your child to experience lots of other activities. Reading your article made me feel so much better, while my daughter absolutely loves soccer ,her natural talent is swimming (no she is not the next Olympian, just very natural in the water). We made the decision to drop out of the Post season of soccer and focus on swimming from April -the first of August.

  • […] Overachieving youth sports […]

  • Josh

    November 15, 2013 at 1:27 pm

    The reason 12 year olds are having surgery is not because of year round time it’s because knucklehead coaches are teaching curve balls and sliders before arm development

  • Dean

    May 19, 2014 at 12:43 am

    Hi, It looks like this is mainly meant for Mom’s of youngsters but I’m looking for some advice. I’m a single Dad and my 12 year old Son plays Soccer. He plays Goalie and plays on a traveling team, He has had the U.S, national team recruiter look at him, a college recruiter look at him, many different coaches want him on their teams and a lot of ex player say how good he is. He has been playing since he was 5 and now wants to quit. I’m inclined to let him stop playing if he wants to but at the same time I feel like it may pass and what if I let him quit and it turns out to be the wrong decision? He was just accepted to a state league team again and is not wanted to play. Any input from anybody?

    • BookinWeasel

      January 29, 2015 at 4:28 am


      I have seen this scenario a couple of times up close and personal.  Travel soccer, 3 practices a week + 1 or 2 games on weekends= burnout by 13/14.  Maybe give him time away from the sport and he possibly returns to it when he is ready.

  • Anne

    November 13, 2014 at 9:26 pm

    Thank you for this insightful article.  It has helped me so much as my daughter has been slowly pushed out of her basketball team.  I didn’t mind that she sat the bench during games, what I did mind is the coach didn’t even bother to teach her the plays in practice, she got to defend or watch.  I took her off the team and didn’t allow myself to be sucked into over protective behavior. She put in 3 years of trying and that is enough. I will try a sport outside of her school.  Thanks again for the great advice.  

  • BookinWeasel

    January 29, 2015 at 4:24 am

    #5 I have to disagree with.  I coach and I make sure my kids play less, not much, but less than most of the others on their teams.  I make sure there are NO favorites and that my kids fall into that category.  

  • […] This for me was hard to watch. I would fidget in my seat. I wanted to take him aside and coach him on what to do. I even yelled a few times with words of encouragement. He simply brushed me off and went back to the game he was playing in his head. I think the term I used when describing the night to Katie was space cadet. I had to not let it make me go crazy. […]

  • Anonymous

    April 8, 2015 at 8:39 pm

    I totally disagree with number 5. I’m a coach and I give equal playing time to all the kids including my own. For you to say the only qualification is to yell is false. Coaches are mentors; they’re there for discipline, knowledge, and pride. If parents can’t handle their child being disciplined then don’t put them on a team sport. Welcome to the real world. Kids these days need to toughen up. I’m not talking physical muscle, I’m talking mental. Learn to accept it and grow from it. Insults, I agree, are not needed, but a little push once in a while is sometimes what they need. When we were young, you feared consequences of bad choices, now kids just do as they please and really couldn’t give a damn if they hurt themselves or someone else. It all relates. Sports are also a form of discipline. If they didn’t at least try it, then they’d have their heads in front of a TV, in an iPad, or in a video game. You can tell this was written from the perspective of a non-athlete. You said you didn’t even like to sweat, so it seems to me your opinion is also weighed on that. Hard work comes in many different forms, it’s the effort that is key. If you aren’t that annoying parent, then let it go. You can’t change them, and it’s not worth yelling at them. Let them embarrass themselves. Yes, they’re idiots, probably because they weren’t disciplined properly. Unfortunately, their child may end up the same. Circle of life, apple from tree. If you could change the world, this would stop, but I know you can’t because you don’t like to sweat.

  • Lenah

    September 2, 2015 at 12:50 pm

    I have a son who just turned 5 end of August, he is I. Kindergarten this year and this is his first year playing soccer, I signed up to be a coach, BC I loved playing soccer and I thought it would be fun for him, but he clings to me and I do t really k ow how to get the kids to do what needs done, the other coach does….what should I do,,,first
    Practice was yesterday, then next Tuesday and then Sunday and so forth then hames on that time….

  • Carl

    September 3, 2015 at 9:14 pm

    We just had my 5 yr old’s first soccer game. He hasn’t played since we moved to the area last year. I was his coach where we last lived but it was only for a couple of games. While our son said he wanted to play, he has been through 3 practices and one game and he just isn’t getting it. He has trouble focusing and payin attention to the coaches. The coaches don’t really seem to teach the kids all that much about the game because these kids (5-6 year olds in kindergarten) have probably been playing for at least 2 years and play year round. We can’t afford to have my son play year round and it’s unfortunate that we live in a wealthy town but we, ourselves, aren’t well off. With that said, our son is behind and he just isn’t into it as much as we hoped. Tonight, my wife and I made the decision to pull him from soccer. His attention span just isn’t there and he wanders mentally and physically while on the field during the game. Have any of the parents seeing this post gone through the same thing? I feel really bad about it but t was very expensive for us to enroll him and he is just not getting or or into it as we had hoped. I hope we are doing the right thing. 🙁

  • Bill

    January 5, 2016 at 1:18 am

    This post is full of a lot of rubbish. While there are a few points to remember, it sounds like the originator had the problem and they are merely venting. To be the best at anything takes hard work and dedication. We need all types of professionals in this world to make it go around and this includes sport athletes. Sometimes children need a push to stay with something because they have no idea. Just like one day they like milk and the next day they don’t, so I guess you’ll let them choose whatever they want? Yes there are horror stories just like in anything else but would you teach them to just give up? That’s a great lesson. For those who stick to a plan and spend the countless hours and money to make their child the best I applaud you. For those coaches that give up their time only to be bickered at by parents and get paid nothing, I applaud you. Whatever sport you have your child in be passionate and interested and teach them to be the best they can be!