“I’m flattered that someone would think Miles is talented, because he works very hard at baseball, and he loves it so much,” she said. “But it’s also a daunting thing as well. I think, ‘OK, some adult is interested in approaching my kid.’
“But he’s 8.”
Everything you remembered about youth sports when you grew up has changed. Forget the eight-game season of the middle schooler, though they still exist in some recreation leagues. Heck, forget the once universal dream of making varsity in high school. In some sports, particularly club hockey and soccer, some high-level club teams forbid players from competing on their high school teams. The level of competition is too low.
Now there are a vast array of year-round club choices in almost every sport: hockey, baseball, soccer, volleyball, field hockey, swimming, lacrosse. You’ve probably seen the stickers on the rear windows of minivans and SUVs.
There are annual tryouts for elite and traveling teams for kids in elementary school. Fees for select clubs can be upward of $1,000 for kids as young as 6. There are hours of weekly evening practices in training facilities in remote industrial parks. Mandatory spirit gear. Pressure for private instruction. Travel tournaments on weekends.
Parents admit the time and money spent shuttling kids to competition and practices appear over-the-top. Robert Goldson of Ladue, Mo., said he’s in for $2,500 a year for a swim club team for his two girls, 8 and 12, for membership, training and equipment. They swim three to four times a week, year-round.
“I can’t believe it. I’m sometimes like, ‘Oh, my God. I didn’t do any of that growing up. I got a lacrosse stick, and I got a helmet in seventh grade,'” Goldson said.
Most parents point to the benefits: the discipline of balancing sports with school, the strong instruction, the friends and the fun of traveling over a weekend where kids make human pyramids or play hot box in the hallways of a hotel. That points to the growing social component in this.
“There’s the pressure for the social status of your kid,” Goldson said. “I think that’s why people feel pressure to get their kids up and running, I think they want to make sure their kids are included.”
Most parents tell you they try to keep a balance. For Goldson, there’s no goal of college scholarships. The eldest doesn’t go to nearly the number of weekend swim meets that are expected by the club. Yet still, there is pressure to keep up: He feels the experience will give her the edge to swim varsity in high school.
The organizations say it’s about keeping up with the competition, molding young athletes to perform their best, balancing sports with school and possibly getting a leg up on college.
Most of the major sports clubs in St. Louis have pages on their websites for recruiters, listing the club’s prospects, who can be as young as 14.
“The big thing is, the more you play it, the better at it you should get,” said Strickland, a scout for the New York Mets and the owner of the youth club, the Pirates. He said children in his club play fewer games, train more and get appropriate conditioning.
Strickland said the intensity is necessary to compete.