Recreational vs Select/Travel Sports

The Hustle & Attitude philosophy I am espousing relates to positive youth recreational sports experiences.  Why do I specify recreational sports?  Because there is a difference between youth recreational sports and youth select/sports leagues and teams.

Perhaps a story would help make the difference clear.  A good friend of mine told me about his son’s experience in youth recreational soccer years ago.  His son, we’ll refer to him as ‘B’, was a very good and competitive soccer player.  My friend recounted that B was playing wing one game and dribblingSoccer Player the ball up the side of the field.  In soccer – youth soccer, in particular – the play is often to cross the ball into the center in order to set up a scoring opportunity.  B did just that.  And the ball crossed all the way across the middle of the field and went out of bounds on the other side.  Turns out B’s teammates were not as into the game as he was.  They either didn’t know what they were supposed to do or weren’t willing to put in as much effort as B.  He could easily have dribbled the ball into the center of the field and set up his own scoring opportunity.  But, the right thing to do within the game is to cross the ball.  But it wasn’t working…B was getting negative results within the sport for doing the right thing – and this was very discouraging to him.  B and his father talked about it and realized that playing in a recreational league would not satisfy his competitive desires.  They looked into local select soccer teams.  B tried out for one and has been playing for years with other boys who are competing as diligently as he is.

Select sports teams differ from youth recreational sports teams in player selection, playing time, and purpose.

  • Player Selection:  In youth recreational sports leagues, every player that registers gets on a team.  Select and travel teams have tryouts and only a few players make the team.  In addition, the fees for players to register are higher for select and travel teams.
  • Playing Time:  As I have advocated, every player in a youth recreational sports league has the same opportunity to play – in terms of game playing time and playing multiple positions.  Players who make it on a select/travel team are not guaranteed playing time.  The best players at each position get the most playing time.
  • Purpose:  I believe the purpose of recreational sports leagues is to provide athletic opportunities for all youth.  I believe that the purpose of select/travel teams is to provide athletic opportunities for youth seeking competitive experiences in sport.  Recreational teams play each other in a regular season and then often and end of season tournament.  Perhaps there is an all star team selected and those players may continue to play (e.g. this is how Little League Baseball operates).  The idea is to allow the children in the neighborhood the greatest opportunity for a positive and fun sports experience.  Select/travel teams may play in a league, but most often play in tournaments across the region where they are located.  The idea is to compete and win in league and tournament play.

It’s not that the tenets of the Hustle & Attitude philosophy can’t be applied in youth select/travel sports leagues; coaches in all youth sports leagues would probably like to have all their players play and emphasize fun.  However, with different purposes come appropriate differences in player selection and playing time that explain why mine is a youth recreational sports philosophy.


Bleacher Report gets advance screening of Concussion

Good piece today by Mike Freeman on his reaction following an advanced screening of the movie ‘Concussion’ due out in December. via

The APA on Youth Tackle Football & “Hit Counts”

When I started this blog, I didn’t think the majority of my posts would be about youth tackle football, but this is a vital topic of conversation in youth recreational sports.  My last post mentioned the National Association of Youth Sports.  Another organization I follow on Twitter is The Aspen Sports Institute (@AspenInstSports) because they share a similar philosophy of promoting positive youth recreational sports experiences.  Recently, they posted a link to a statement from the American Academy of Pediatrics on Tackling in Youth Football.  Interestingly, while I was mulling over what to say about the AAP’s statement, the Oct. 26, 2015 issue of Time Magazine included a piece by Sean Gregory advocating tracking hits to the head in football similarly to how baseball tracks pitch counts.  The AAP makes some solid recommendations including sort of agreeing with Gregory’s proposal for “hit counts“.

Youth Tackle FootballDespite some rather dubious conclusions (does the statement “a higher proportion of injuries result from contact than noncontact mechanisms” really require 5 citations?!?!), the AAP statement includes a couple of nuggets of information, including:

  • The risk of catastrophic injury during participation in football is comparable to the risk in gymnastics and lower than the risk in ice hockey.
  • The incidence of injuries sustained by children ages 7 to 13 years playing football was similar to, and in fact slightly lower than, that of baseball and boys’ soccer.

The AAP statement is balanced; while presenting data that limiting Flag Football Picturethe contact in practices or not having contact until a certain age may reduce the number of head injuries, they also present the position that delaying the teaching of proper tackling and getting tackled techniques might actually make the risk of injury higher.  Their conclusions / recommendations include changing the culture of of football to one where there is zero tolerance for illegal head-first hits, removing tackling from football altogether (they admit this is quite radical and not likely), expanding nontackling leagues (see my previous post recommending flag football before middle school), making efforts to reduce the number of hits to the head, delaying the age when tackling is introduced, strengthening the athlete’s necks, and making every effort to have athletic trainers on the sidelines of football practices and games.

With respect to the AAP’s recommendation to reduce the number of hits, they are at least partially in line with the idea of “hit counts”.  Gregory offers what he calls a modest proposal:  regulating hits to the head in football just as we count pitches in baseball.  He notes that this would require outfitting helmets with sensors and then determining how many shots a player can sustain before sitting out.  A Google search of football helmet impact sensors resulted in a couple of products ranging from $49.99 to $199.99; so, the idea of including sensors in youth football helmets might make an already expensive sport more so.  But, if it contributes to reducing the number of long-term head injuries to youth football players; what parent wouldn’t pay the additional cost?  Although the AAP cites the need for more research in the area, they reference a study that found a mean of 774 impacts per high school player during a single season (the number varied by position, with linemen sustaining the higher number of impacts) and another where the average number of hits per 7-8 year-old player was 107 with more occurring during practices than games.  The statement also reported that the number of impacts increased with increasing level of play from youth to high school.

I recommend additional research with the expected result being the establishment of standard age-based ‘hit counts’ that would then be measured using sensors installed in helmets.  In the meantime, leagues ought to consider simply counting collisions involving the head during practice and games as a start – and limiting them based on localized results.  As Gregory asks in his piece:  “Baseball started somewhere.  Why can’t football do the same?”

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