Elite and travel teams can hurt kids’ confidence by setting up a dicey relationship among kids, parents and coaches.
That’s the view of Hal Phillips, a former sports parent and youth soccer coach, plus author of Generation Zero: Founding Fathers, Hidden Histories and the Making of Soccer in America. He spoke with us recently during an interview for our Ultimate Sports Parent podcast.
Elite and travel teams are basically set up to be “pay to play.” Kids feel pressured to excel because their parents are paying–often big bucks–for them to be on these teams.
And, when they’re on these teams, kids may also feel pressured to get college scholarships, he says. This can take the joy out of sports.
Sports parents often believe that their young athletes need sports scholarships to get into good colleges, and that joining elite and travel teams will help them, he says.
“Maybe kids feel like they need to pursue soccer or another sport to get themselves into college or get some kind of scholarship break. It’s a lot for a kid to shoulder,” Phillips said.
Joining elite teams can also create doubts in kids’ minds about where they stand, which can hurt their confidence, he said.
When kids play on these teams in the U.S., their parents have to pay. But in other countries, this isn’t true.
“Everywhere else in the world, kids who are good enough to get the attention of elite clubs go off and participate in academies where the club pays all the costs. Here, the parents pay them and that tends to warp the relationship between the club and the parent and the kid,” Phillips said.
It’s difficult for a coach to tell players that they’re not making the grade when the parents are spending thousands of dollars so their kids can play on the team, he says.
“The politics of a team are pretty clear to a kid often. And this just makes it more difficult for them to sort out their place on the team and their actual abilities with a clear eye,” he said.
Such confusion can make kids frustrated, which can undermine their focus and fun.
Instead of pushing kids to get sports scholarships and insisting they play on elite teams, parents should ensure that kids have the opportunity to play more than one sport so they know which sports they like, Phillips said.
In addition, parents should consider placing kids on high school teams, which are free and eliminate the potential for a parent-coach dynamic that’s based on paying to play.
Parents should also focus less on working toward sports scholarships to get into college. “Let’s be honest, getting into college is a huge driver of all of this stuff,” he said.
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