Do you have a child playing for an “elite” youth sports team? Ever wonder how a team earns the name elite? I do. I keep looking for some sort of standard that a coach or youth sports program director uses to validate using such a name. To my knowledge, no such standards exist. Anyone can start a team and call it elite. And the label has implications that extend beyond the seduction that traps a growing number of families across the country into high fees, crazed schedules, and unreasonable expectations.
When we think of elite, don’t we think of Navy Seals and professional athletes? Those who have dedicated their lives or careers to reach the highest levels of achievement? By nature of their youth, kids are still developing. And our goals as parents and coaches should be to aid this growth, to encourage and nurture it.
What does it mean to a kid if at 11 he is already “elite” – at the highest level, the “best,” “superior to peers?” Where does he go from there? And worse, what lengths will he go to maintain that status and title?
Carol Dweck, the author of Mindset, is by now widely quoted, helping parents and teachers develop a “growth mindset” for kids. One that teaches that talent is not fixed, but able to be cultivated. By labeling children “elite” we are only putting them in a position they will want to protect – a pedestal to not fall off. In this position, what motivation does a child have to take a risk, to try and fail, or even to try harder? According to their team name, they’ve already arrived.
Often the boost of playing for an elite team can morph into a premature intense pressure that makes playing the sport they love into a job with high demands and expectations. This type of pressure rarely assists in (and typically hinders) a child’s growing love of a sport, the ability to learn from mistakes, and the protection from burnout and overuse injury.
Sadly, we have gotten away from the critical component of youth sports – youth itself, and the opportunity to use sports as a vehicle for growth and learning that will build a foundation for achievement in all aspects of life.
Isn’t that more of our ultimate goal? To create kids that we’ll be proud of at age 21? Kids that will go on to happy and successful adults, equipped to handle the ups and downs life will inevitably throw them? Rather than find elite teams, our goal should be to search for elite coaches – the best of the best that understand kids, aid in their development and help them become lifelong learners and lovers of the game.