At what age should kids try out for sports?

By Brian Gotta, President of CoachDeck

I ran into a friend of mine who is on the board of the local Little League where I served eight years. He was telling me about some changes the league was making which they felt were very positive.

One of their new ideas is to create a division above the current “Machine-Pitch” level where some of the “more talented” kids could begin doing live pitching instead of facing a machine. In the past we’d always mandated that six year-olds play T-ball, seven year-olds Coach-Pitch, eight year-olds, Machine-Pitch, and then only when you are nine do you begin facing live pitching.

I don’t want to get into a debate on whether the idea of starting kids on live pitching at eight is better or worse than age nine, but it did bring up some questions, most notably, how would those “more talented” kids be selected? I know from experience on the board that 80% of the parents in our community believe their six and seven year-olds possess advanced skills. How, I wondered, would the board determine who gets to “play-up” and who doesn’t? Were they now going to begin tryouts a year earlier, at age 8?

My friend said that they were dead-set against tryouts for eight year-olds and that they were going to base who got to play on the evaluations filled out by the previous year’s Coach-Pitch manager. I think they’re in for some trouble with this strategy. Not only is it difficult to get 12-14 managers at this level to fill out the evaluations to begin with, I feel that asking them to determine who is eligible to move up or not puts these people in a tough situation. Few who sign up to coach seven year-old kids in Coach-Pitch are going to want to take on the added responsibility of determining which players advance and which don’t. Plus, I can just hear the parents now of the kids who aren’t above the threshold. “He said Johnny was better than my son? Johnny couldn’t hold a candle to Timmy!” Now, in a division that is supposed to simply recreational and instructional, I can see parents watching every game with score books and keeping batting averages so that, at the end of the season, they can prove their son deserves a shot at skipping a level next year too.

What it means is, they’re eventually going to have to do a tryout for eight year-olds, which got me thinking, how young is too young for children to “try-out” for a sport? I’m not referring to assessments where confidential evaluations are made in order to form fair teams, yet where everyone makes a team and gets to play. I’m talking about a full-fledged try-out where some will be given the good news that they made the cut, and others will be told they are not good enough.

I’m not sure there is any definitive right or wrong answer, but it is certainly one every organization in every youth sport should examine.

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