Five Myths About Playing “Elite” Travel Youth Sports
By VJ Stanley
MYTH #1: Because you pay a lot of money, you believe your child’s athletic ability has a quantitative value.
I’ve heard this comment in many forms. Parents often brag about how much money they’ve spent on their child’s youth sport’s experience, how “whipped” they are from the brutal schedule their child has in youth sports, how far they had to travel last weekend, how many times they’ve visited their child’s orthopedic surgeon or personal trainer. I then hear, “My son signed his first contract to play junior hockey.” (Even though the parent paid $10,000 in various travel fees for his son to play on that team).
I’ve also seen children go play on an “elite academy team” with their families paying thousands of dollars and then bragging about it, only to hear later on that they regretted the decision when no scholarship offer appeared.
Let me make this clear: There is no correlation between how much money you spend on your child’s athletic “elite” travel team and their ability to play at a higher level.
You can’t buy talent. If this was true, how do poor kids reach their athletic peak? Think of this example. Your child has a cold. You take her to the pediatrician and get a prescription for some medicine. You’re done. You aren’t sent to a specialist to pay more money. You only go to a specialist when you need special results. In this case, it’s just a common cold for a common child. What if this new youth sport’s paradigm is not a special situation for most children and does not call for special attention? You’d be spending and wasting money needlessly. Wouldn’t you get frustrated when you didn’t get special results?
Continually we hear the disappointment in the end game of this monetary path. The money spent far outweighs what is received in athletic scholarships. There’s a tangible hangover to this paradigm. We see it every day.
On our website, frozenshorts.com, we have a form to fill out that will show you what it costs per hour for your child to play elite travel sports per weekend. The cost — about $230.00 an hour –should astound you!
Myth #2: A child should play one sport year round in order to become a star athlete.
Really? Who told you that? Are they making money off of your participation in that one sport activity? Why is this happening?
This idea has taken hold and grown over the last thirty years. More and more youth sports’ organizations adhere to this. They ask the family to submit a calendar of their kid’s “outside” activities and inform the parents that their children, if they don’t want to fall behind, need to make a year round training commitment. It’s implied by some coaches that failure to make this level of commitment will cause the child to lose serious playing time or be benched. However, it is never the star player who receives this sort of demand. Excuses are always made for this player.
“Mandatory” camps are routinely held during the “off” season. It’s apparent you had better sign up and attend to keep your spot. Families are told that the team must stay and play together to win.
Almost all these teams/organizations say this and yet many don’t win as much as they’d lead you to believe, considering the importance placed on winning. In addition, few parents realize that their child may lose substantial playing time to the new kid who suddenly is added to the team, and is given “carte blanche” by the coach. This kind of move often undermines the team concept.
Finally, I hear parents allow and encourage one sport year round participation because their children “love” the sport and Mom and Dad are allowing their children “to take this as far as they can.”
Let me put it this way. I LOVE ice cream. But I can’t eat it every day. It’s not just not healthy.
Let’s look at the science, psychology, and data. There are 2 to8 times more injuries for those kids who play one sport year round. Health, according to Dr. James Andrews, the top orthopedic surgeon in the US, is the most important thing for an athlete’s success at each level.
Children change their mind all the time. Having them do anything year round tends to be against their nature. They may initially want to play year round–even enjoy it. But soon, it will begin to wear on them.
These are kids—and kids want to do different things. They will proceed to please their parents and avoid the stigma of quitting. But invariably, for many, injuries begin and their bodies and minds tell them they need to rest. Soon you have a child not having any fun who is more susceptible to getting hurt.
The simple truth is, the drive for athletic scholarships, or a pro career, isn’t dependent on focusing on one sport year all year round. The Minnesota Twins always look for multi-sport athletes. Their top prospect, Byron Buxton, is the #1 prospect in all of minor league baseball and was a basketball star in high school.
Three out of the four starting quarterbacks in the 2013 AFC and NFC championship games were drafted by major league baseball teams. Peyton Manning — the one quarterback who wasn’t drafted — played shortstop in high school right through his senior year. Ryan Callahan, the former captain of the New York Rangers and now with the Tampa Bay Lightning, played soccer and advocates time away from hockey in the off-season. Brian Gionta, the captain of the Montreal Canadiens, takes three months off from skating after every season. Abby Wambach, considered to be the top female soccer player in the world, was a high school basketball star.
Myth 3: Your team benefits by playing other “elite” teams.
The truth is, most teams are only elite because someone put that title on it.
Most elite teams consist of a group of kids whose parents agreed to pay an outrageous fee for their child’s participation on this team. The team was picked from a pool of participants that excluded anyone who couldn’t afford to pay the fee and/or didn’t want to give up everything else they were doing to play on this team. The league you play in has the same criteria as you do; therefore, there is no way you can expect true elite competition.
Most recreation level sports aren’t as good as “elite” because of desire. I’ve watched many and can say that just like elite teams and players, there are a couple of stand-out kids, a couple who are not very good, and the rest are about the same talent level. You could easily switch some kids from either team and not see much of a difference.
Here’s another truth: I’ve talked to many kids who passed up playing for their high school and most publicly say they wouldn’t change what they did. But behind the scenes, and in growing numbers, kids are going back to their high school varsity teams. They are quietly saying to family and friends they are regretting their decision to play elite sports instead of with their high school friends.
There are only so many spots on college teams and they’re getting filled by not just a national pool but a global pool of talent. While it is true that some college coaches only recruit from the “one sport year round” pedigree, most college coaches, regardless of sport, look for multi-sport athletes who are great teammates and have high-quality character first and foremost.
Myth #4: Showcases are a big step towards your athletic scholarship goal
Here is my definition of a showcase. A truly elite program sends out individual invitations for an athlete to attend. The event is only for children above the age of 15. The coaches let the kids play, with minimal instruction. The parents pay a nominal fee. The showcase isn’t there for the main purpose of funding a team/program/organization.
I understand that college coaches sometimes get paid a fee to attend these showcases. They also get an advantage watching a lot of kids play their sport in a short amount of time. They can only attend these showcases at certain times of the year, according to the NCAA rules. Because of the plethora of these money-making showcases, there is a watered down aspect that starts to develop.. In some cases, kids go to these showcases, tired, not at peak, and try to impress college scouts with their “stuff” and they can get injured. 80% of a college coach’s job is recruiting. Trust me, if you have talent, we will find you. It’s our job.
The last soccer showcase I took my son to, we had to travel six hours by car. My son played four games against the same level of competition that he normally played against in his ‘elite” travel league back home. I watched every team I could get to (about 600 kids.) I saw two children who I considered to be D1 material.
I also discovered there were only six other coaches attending this showcase, and I did not recognize any D1 schools.
We paid $600to sit and watch soccer for the weekend. I understand and acknowledge that some people refer to this as their social lives. But the point was supposed to be a showcase for college coaches and perspective college-bound student-athletes.
It was not. It was the last showcase we went to.
On the way home I had the “Santa Claus” talk with my son regarding D1 athletic scholarships and his chances of receiving one. As an aside to this story, it was also the last season my son played travel soccer. He still played and started for his high school team his senior year.
Myth #5: Personal trainers are a necessity in youth sports.
Have we gotten to the point that specialization in sports has robbed our children of the basic fundamentals of running, stopping, throwing, kicking, and catching? These children now have to be taught basic fundamentals by specialists?
I am all for certified athletic trainers in rehabbing injuries. But until you show me a study where an overweight 10-year-old worked with a personal trainer for 8 years and was transformed into a DI athlete with no baggage, I have a hard time believing.
We have gotten messages from a couple of national trainers and they say elite training gives an athlete a mental and physical edge, but that applies only for the very top 1% of the athletes in the country.
My point? Be wary of any trainer who is attempting to make a buck off you or your son’s ambitions.
Go outside and play for fun in pickup games. Make up your own games. The coping, sharing, playing, socializing, and fun will lead to great times and memories. Bring the backyard back!
It’s not our goal here at Frozen Shorts to decide when, how, or even if the light goes on for those participating in youth sports. Our job is to just keep flipping the switch.
V.J. Stanley served as a head coach in college hockey for 21 years and is now an author who speaks nationally on balanced excellence in youth and high school sports for better health and injury prevention. He can contacted at frozenshorts.com.