The Trappings of Youth Sport

2 Mar

A controversy has brewed this week at the club where I coach.

The topic: which fields our U5 through U8 age group should play at.  Last spring and last fall, we played at Fowler Park – our county’s 85 acre and newest park facility.  Last spring the fields had good grass (sparing a few weeds on some of the fields) but overall were free from potholes and the wear that comes with heavily used fields.

This spring, these four age groups have been relocated back to where we practice – the Polo Fields, a well-used facility that used to host Polo matches.  Here, the fields vary widely from sandy, rutted messes to somewhat well maintained sections.  This is actually where I’ve played the majority of my adult team seasons.

But why is this a controversy?

The two facilities are less than two miles apart.  I actually pass by the Polo Fields en route to Fowler Park.  There is more parking available at the Polo Fields in close proximity to the playing fields than there is at Fowler Park – so this should mean that my players will be on-time more often.

The Polo Fields do lack permanent facilities.  There are not permanent restrooms – only portable toilets.  This is a significant difference – but keep in mind that matches at this level last 40 minutes for U5 and U6 and an hour for U7 and U8.  The amount of time that players will be on site is very minimal.

I think it all comes down to image.

Much like the restaurant-patrons jockeying for a better table in Waiter Rant, I think a lot of families get caught up in the trappings of youth sports.  That without swag uniforms, matching bags, and the general state of “gear porn” evident in many youth sports starting at age 5 – the families lose interest.  Good playing fields are one dimension of it.

Do you really think the quality of the field will diminish their ability to learn the sport and perform at a better level twelve months from now?  In truth, I would expect that many of today’s great players worldwide didn’t play on perfect green rectangles from the age of five.

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