Athletes, Coaching, Communication, Competition, Evaluation, Parent, Skill Development, Training

A Parents Guide for Youth Sports : To Compete or Not Compete

multi sport collage

When a young student begins an activity, it is usually because they have a desire to do so. They may have friends that are doing the activity or seen it on television that sparks their interest. Whatever the reason, participation starts out at the beginning stages and the athlete will quickly decide if it is something they enjoy and want to pursue to higher levels.

Many sports are automatically competitive and is a major focus even for beginning students. Sports such as football, baseball, basketball, and soccer all have competitive games that are part of the participation. When a child participates in one of these types of sports, they become a competitor.

Some athletes thrive in this environment and love the competition. However, there are others who like the activity but not the competition. So, the question to consider is: “to compete or not compete?” This question is usually answered by the parent. Parents who enroll their child in a competitive sport should be aware of how the child reacts to this environment. Of course, competition is scary at first for a young athlete, so encouragement and patience may be necessary. Many parents will wait for a season to end before determining if that sport was the right decision.

CartwheelThere are other sports that have a recreational only side of the sport where the students are not trained to compete. These include sports like gymnastics, dance, and golf to name only a few. Many children who participate in these types of sports do so for fun and enjoyment. The time commitment is typically less than in a competitive sport and there is little stress involved in participation.

It is typically the passion and desires of those athletes who choose to pursue the competitive side of sports. These athletes may have a natural competitive attitude. This drives them to stay motivated, train hard, and want to win. They are excited about spending as much time as they can practicing their sport. As with most competitive athletes, the objective is to train to win. There are many factors at play with competitive sports. These include learning great sportsmanship, learning how to lose gracefully, and more importantly, how to remain humble when success is achieved (Win or Lose: Sports Learning Curve).

The biggest difference between the athlete who enjoys the recreational side vs the competitive side of sport is the effort and dedication factors. Athletes who participate as a recreational activity will usually spend much less time at the activity. Training these athletes is also much different. Although, the students should still learn the skills correctly, effectively, and safely, there is no pressure to perform at any level. In this environment, training may not be focused on skill development detail as training with a competitive athlete.

The programs I operate are strictly recreational and the focus of our curriculum is centered mostly on tumbling elements – which is the foundation of all gymnastics. In addition, tumbling is an important part of cheerleading, dance, and martial arts. Thus, our programs draw in athletes from several different sports disciplines (Programs for the Rec Student).
Since our programs are strictly recreational and incorporates athletes from different disciplines, we have scenario’s where the students grow out of our program to pursue higher levels of sport. This is the dynamic of not offering a competitive program, however, we pride ourselves in developing students to the point where they can be accepted and take the sport to higher levels.

Coaches conference
Parents Need to be Educated

When a student is ready for this transition or the parent is interested in taking their child to the next level, it is important to explain the differences in the style of programs. Especially if the recreational program is not located in a gym that also has competitive program running simultaneously. When an experienced student makes the transition from a recreational program to pursue a competitive program, the training commitment and schedule will usually become much more demanding. In addition, there may also be a difference in skill development.

There are students who leave the recreational program to join a competitive program where they have thrived and become successful competitors. However, there are others who return or quit altogether because it wasn’t what they expected. There are several factors to consider when making this adjustment. Age is a big factor when considering this transition. Many students may be just too young to handle the structure and demand required in a competitive program. Another factor may be the sacrifice in the time commitment.

I always discuss with the parent when they ask about this transition the factors to consider (Coaching the Parents). Most importantly, if a student wants to give competition a try, I think they should experience the atmosphere. Most gyms will allow a trial period before a commitment is made. They will never know unless they try!!

kids on dance floor

I hope this article is helpful for those seeking information for youth sports development.  I will soon be releasing a series of manuals and video’s that will be beneficial for many.  These will include skill development, safety and spotting, program development, training atmospheres, and many more subjects to enhance the development of coaches and athletes.

If you have concerns or need assistance with your training program, do not hesitate to contact me.  If you would like an on-line training session via Skype, please contact me for scheduling.

Email:   scottjohnsongymnastics@gmail.com

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