What I do not like about the youth sports atmosphere currently is the seriousness level that is being played at such a young age.  I’m not a big fan of the glorification of the Little League World Series for example.  They are playing that thing at a time when kids should be playing with their fall sports teammates.

As a side effect of all these travel teams, if an athlete gets cut from a team or isn’t getting a lot of playing time they lose their desire for the sport and potentially quit.  It’s one thing for a high schooler to quit, but a 10 year old feeling they will never be good at their sport is certainly another.

It is tough for a kid that age to understand that if they love playing the sport to keep trying.  Work harder and you might make the team next year.  I know it doesn’t help them in the present when their buddies are on the team and they aren’t.

Kids grow at different rates.  They mature faster than others.  Just because you are on the elite travel team as a 6th grader, certainly does not guarantee you will be a successful athlete as a junior in high school.

That being said, I saw an article recently listing recognizable star athletes who did not start in their sport until their senior year in high school.  Here are a few of them for you to look at:

  • Lorenzo Cain is an All-Star outfielder for the Milwaukee Brewers. He thought he was going to be a basketball player, but got cut from the team his freshman year.  Someone told him to try out for baseball, basically because he was athletic and they didn’t have that many people on the team.  He had never played baseball in his life.  He went out his sophomore year and was on JV through his junior year.  His senior year, he finally made varsity and was able to start.  He played so well, the Milwaukee Brewers drafted him in 2004 and the rest is history.
  • Height is obviously huge for basketball and Zach Collins had plenty of it. The 2nd year Portland Trailblazer got his height early in life, but it was too early.  He was gangly and awkward and couldn’t quite get his coordination.  He finally started his senior year, played a year at Gonzaga, then entered the NBA draft.  In 2 years from barely making the high school team to getting on an NBA roster.  How about that?
  • We all know Clay Matthews, the long-haired linebacker from the Green Bay Packers. He also wasn’t a starter in high school until his senior year and his dad was the team’s defensive coordinator.  He wouldn’t start him because he was undersized and thought he might get hurt.  Between his junior and senior year, he added about 50 pounds and dropped .4 seconds on his 40.  He then walked on to USC after his senior year in high school and proved he belonged.
  • One last example is one of the best running backs ever to play football, Barry Sanders, yes did not start until his senior year in high school. Even that year, he started out just starting as a defensive back.  Then about 3 games into the season, the starting running back got injured and Barry jumped in.  He had a good enough rest of the season that Oklahoma State desired to have him.  Good thing they did.

The whole point of this is athletes shouldn’t be discouraged if they are not making travel teams or not starting when they are 8, 9, or 10 years old.  If you love the sport, continue to stick it out and play.  Do what you can to make next season a great season.

You never know what will happen the next year.  You don’t know if you hit that growth spurt and now you are dominating kids.  You don’t know which kids quit because they want to focus on another sport.

All you can do is control you.  What do you need to do to be better than you were the previous year?  Ask that question and then figure it out.

Bottom line is don’t let others diminish the fire you have for a sport at a young age.  I know it will be tough, but if these athletes had let their early years control their love for their sport we might have been robbed of some of the best players to play the game.