Youth Sports

Youth Sports Should Be Fun For All Athletes at Every Level.


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For Both Competitive and Recreational Athletes, Youth Sports Should Be Fun

Fun and competition can go hand-in-hand. At the same time that sports can be physically and mentally demanding as well as competitive, kids can be having fun.

Consider the following answers about yourself and playing sports.

1. Why do you play sports?
2. What would you like your parents to do—if anything—at your sports competitions?
3. What would you like your parents to say to you—if anything—on the car ride home after a sports competition?

Think about how you would answer each of these questions, then discuss your answers with your parents. Also encourage your parents to read the Parents Page at

Pick-Up Games and Multiple Sports Participation are Important to Development

Both of my kids play multiple competitive sports and have benefited from good coaching. Still, most of their athletic development has taken place while exploring in our backyard—by themselves or with friends.

In years past, children were more likely than they are today to organize spontaneous pick-up games in backyards, streets, parks, or vacant lots.

Yogi Berra, an American baseball icon, got his start playing sandlot baseball with friends from his neighborhood.

Pick-up basketball was so engrained in the life of Michael Jordan that he included a “Love of the Game” clause in his NBA contract, allowing him to play competitive off-season pick-up games.

And many credit the creativity of soccer legend Lionel Messi, both on and off the field, to his early years of development while playing street soccer.

Learn what you can from well-qualified and well-trained coaches and understand that developing into a successful athlete also requires practice and experimentation on your own and with friends, without interference from adults.

Functional Strength and Power is Important to Success

 Today’s youth sports culture is misguided in the way of developing young athletes. Many parents and coaches think that if kids specialize early and practice their sport-specific skills, they’ll rise to the top. Study after study indicates that specializing early is not how successful athletes develop.

Some specialized athletes dominate early with their skills. Then between the ages of 12 and 15 they are passed over by kids who have developed general athleticism through multiple sports participation and have developed explosive speed and strength as a result of a functional training program. Good skills can’t make up for a lack of strength, speed, and quickness. Stronger, more athletic kids will eventually dominate; they’ll also be more resilient to injuries and experience more longevity in sports.

Based on my education and research in the areas of sports science and human growth and development, I believe athletes who do the following three things will have the best chance to reach their full athletic potential.

1. Play multiple sports—especially before the age of 12.

2. Make time for pick-up games and experimental practice—independently and with friends—even if it means giving up some adult-centered organized practice time.

3. Begin an age-appropriate functional strength-training program now.

Learn Age-Appropriate Guidelines and Exercises for Youth Athletes