Recreational vs Competitive

I have had the opportunity to observe youth games in every sport throughout Clark County. From city parks and recreation leagues to travel baseball clubs, I have noticed more commonalities than differences when it comes to youth sports. First, let me tell you some of the comments I hear from league directors, coaches and parents involved in so-called competitive leagues. Basically, they have expectations of winning, and committed performances from their children. There is seldom mention of kids having fun. How then does this compare with recreational play? League directors, and parents describe it as children playing to have fun and to work on skill development. This really is the idea of youth sports. However, all surveys asking children why they play sports find that children play to have fun. It is disappointing to find that a very high percentage of children and youth involved in competitive sports quit playing.

Recreational play and competitive play are simply opposite points on a continuum. Both are essentially the same concept. When a child first enters youth sports they are developing fundamental sport skills and learning to work in a team environment. Expectations by parents should be based on their child having fun, developing skills and wanting to continue playing. With increased skills comes success, which leads to an increased desire to continue playing and greater self-satisfaction on effort. When skills have been improved to a point where the child demonstrates consistency in play, and has the desire to move towards competitive they are ready. Being ready to raise their level of involvement suggests that they have acquired the necessary skill prerequisites, social confidence and cognitive understanding of what is involved with moving towards competition. Competition is not a bad thing. Competition provides an opportunity for children to learn about strategies, teamwork, effort, sportsmanship and commitment. Concepts that are developed in recreational play as well. Hence another similarity. However, on competitive teams players often relate their skill performance with their self-identity. Those players who perform better play more while others sit the bench. Players on competitive teams in response to surveys respond that they would rather play on a losing team then sit on the bench on a winning team. Perhaps a difference between recreational and competitive play is determined by playing time.

Perhaps the perceived differences between recreational and competitive play rest with the expectations of league directors, coaches and parents, which conflict with the playing interests of the youth. The structure of youth sports has changed very little over the past decades but the results and behavior at games has changed tremendously. Recreational play and competitive play offer opportunities for youth to find success, improve their skills, be around friends and most importantly to have fun. Allowing youth an opportunity to increase their skills, enhance their self-confidence and desire to play they will let you know when they are ready for competitive play. A quick check on whether your child is ready to play is to observe whether they are having fun and enjoy participating. If they are not having fun, take a step back and find a way to bring the fun back. In either case whether youth are involved in recreational or competitive play they should be having FUN.