Are Youth Sports Too Competitive?
By Melissa Wickes
August 3, 2023
We don’t have to tell you how important youth sports are for the development of kids and how they can change the trajectory of their lives. However, today’s youth sports are very different from what some of us grew up with—and they’re getting more and more competitive.
Which begs the question, are youth sports too competitive? Well, over 70% of kids drop out of youth sports by 13, according to the National Library of Medicine—and the increased competitiveness, intensity, and professionalization is not helping that statistic. At the end of the day, it’s about the kids and making sure they have positive memories associated with their experience playing youth sports.
At the same time, competition serves a good purpose in its own right, especially when it’s monitored and doesn’t get out of control. In fact, Dan Gitzen, General Manager of Canes Baseball, attributes the immense success of so many of their players to the level of competition their program offers to them. In 2023 alone, they saw 40 players get picked for the 2023 MLB Draft!
It’s hard to say whether or not youth sports are too competitive, but let’s get into the benefits of competitive sports and how to know when its been taken too far so you can strike the right balance for your organization.
The Benefits of Competitive Youth Sports
While there are some more obvious benefits of competitive sports—like physical fitness, teamwork, friendship, and discipline, there are also some others that may not be top of mind that we should consider.
In competitive sports, players learn to set goals as a team and work towards them together. The fiercer the competition, the more the team has to learn to work together to figure out how to trust one another, rely on their teammates, problem solve, and win. These skills are extremely important in school, careers, and even personal relationships.
Competition makes things more difficult, and facing victories and defeat in competitive sports can teach players how to cope with success and failure. This builds emotional resilience, giving them experience handling challenges and setbacks in various aspects of life.
Playing competitively provides opportunities to meet and interact with people from diverse backgrounds, fostering social skills, and building a sense of community and belonging.
Typically, the higher the level of competition, the higher the time commitment necessary to play. Kids who participate in competitive sports on top of other commitments like school, other extracurricular activities, and even a part-time job will learn how to balance their time.
When Competition Goes Too Far in Youth Sports
Physical and Emotional Stress
According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, more than 3.5 million children under the age of 14 experience a sports-related injury each year. When an athlete begins to experience continued physical and emotional strain due to intensity of training and a pressure to perform at high levels, it may be time to reconsider the structure of the program or the child’s fit for it. This strain can lead to burnout, injuries, and a negative impact on their mental health.
While specializing in a sport is something many young athletes consider, doing so at too young of an age denies the athlete the opportunity to try a bunch of different sports—which is very beneficial for their development. Too much emphasis on winning and top performance at a young age can push players to specialize too early, which increases the risk of injuries from overuse as well.
Sometimes when competition is very high, parents, coaches, or even athletes can foster unrealistic expectations and cause unnecessary stress to the player. Make sure as a coach or organizer you’re setting realistic expectations for your players.
The purpose of youth sports is to have fun, and if kids are no longer enjoying it because their focus is entirely on winning, they will lose interest in playing altogether.
When fun is no longer present in games and practice, players drop out. Similarly, less athletically gifted or experienced players may be intimidated by the level of competition and not want to join at all—so you should consider what level is right for the children in question.
How You Can Find the Balance
While it has its drawbacks, competition is a good thing when you have the right amount. To ensure you’re addressing the concerns of too much competition and still motivating your players to do their best, your organization can incorporate the following into your programs:
- Age-appropriate training
- Emphasis on life skills
- Multiple sports participation
- Inclusive opportunities
- Supportive and positive environments
When you have a healthy balance between competition, development, and fun, youth sports are a wonderful thing. To learn more about how you can free up some time to focus on developing your youth sports programs for the better, click here.