Good Question: Is There Such a Thing As Youth Recreational Sports Anymore?

Is there such a thing as recreational sports anymore?

Shortly after the Christmas tree comes down and we trudge through the second half of the school year, the spring sport registration season begins. For years I was blissfully unaware this was even a thing.

We gave soccer a try when Elena was 5 and quickly realized it wasn’t for her. She was happier picking dandelions behind the goal, and we were happier not having to scramble to the soccer fields twice a week with an infant in tow, and so we shelved the idea of team sports for a few years.

In the meantime, Elena has been content to choose a few activities here and there – Girl Scouts, the school musical, Math Bowl team – and not participate in any sports. And when we did opt to try an athletic endeavor again, it was summer swim team at our local pool. It was just our cup of tea. The coach was laid back, there was little pressure to win, the season was short, and Elena could ride to and from practice by herself.

Recently she’s noticed that most of her friends are involved in some type of competitive sport. It’s been tough sometimes to find a friend to hang out with on the weekends, because many of them are at tournaments or traveling with their team. And while I still don’t think she’s really interested in playing a particular sport, she is aware that she’s missing out on the sense of belonging and comradery.

She mentioned that she’d like to try softball, so I looked into signing her up for a spring league. I was very quickly discouraged. At her age, the teams are by try-out only. She’s never picked up a bat in her life. Say by some minor miracle she’s placed on a team (I couldn’t tell if they take everybody or not) – how will she fit in with girls who have been playing for years? The same goes for soccer, volleyball, and basketball.

It seems that by choosing to spend her elementary years out of organized sports, we’ve effectively cut her out of participating in team sports for the remainder of her school career – at least in the sense that she can learn and play with others at the same level as her.

Would we choose the same path again? With her, probably. While I’m temporarily frustrated for her, and she’s moderately disappointed, we both agree that life was pretty good without organized sports. The majority of her time after school and on weekends was spent playing, unconstrained by time or other obligations. We ate dinner as a family nearly every night of the week. Will we choose the same path with Eli? I don’t know. He plays basketball at the YMCA right now, one Saturday a week. We signed him up for his first soccer experience this spring, with one practice during the week and one game on the weekends. It feels manageable, and he loves team sports in a way Elena never did. He has fun with the other kids and hangs on his coach’s every word. Will we have a ┬áhard decision to make should he pursue a sport and it becomes too competitive for our liking? Definitely.

It does make me sad for families who feel they have to choose between organized sports, with the hectic schedule and increasing competitiveness, or an unscheduled, less ambitious early childhood. I wish we could return to a time when youth sports didn’t ramp up until you were in middle school or even older.

How have you fit organized sports into your family’s life? Do you see benefits that trump the inconvenience? Have you been able to find less competitive leagues? Or do you think it’s better for your kids to sit the whole thing out?



  1. If she likes running, there’s always track or cross-country.