What is the difference between clubs and recreation sports?
Recreation (rec) sports typically begin at a younger age, now even as early as three years old. Clubs sports tend to allow for greater specialization in a sport and generally start when a child is older. There are some U-12 [Under 12] club teams, but generally students begin playing club sports in Middle School, around U-14 [Under 14].
Should my daughter play a rec or club sport? And if so, what are the benefits and challenges?
Our answer is both simple and increasingly complex. The decision to participate in rec or club sports is one only a family can decide for their daughter. Only you, not Garrison Forest, know if these types of outside athletic activities are right for your family.
Now for the complicated answer: As a coach and former player, I know that athletes who do rec and club sports may have a higher level of competency in that sport. Whether it is academics, athletics, or arts, the more you practice something, the better you get. Equally as important, if your daughter has a passion to pursue a particular sport or sports and does not feel she is getting enough of that at Garrison Forest, rec and club sports certainly are worthy of consideration. We fully support our athletes doing rec or club sports, but these activities are not for everyone.
Most rec and club teams are great programs that have at the forefront the best interest and athletic and personal development of each player. If done right, they can offer a chance for girls to try out a new sport, meet teammates from other schools and areas, hone their skills in a particular sport, and stay fit—all wonderful objectives that mirror the goals of the GFS athletic program.
That being said, 21st-century interscholastic and co-curricular athletics have become a competitive arena. In the past decade, rec and club programs have grown exponentially. There can be a great deal of pressure on a family and girl to be part of a rec or club team or feel left behind. As parents, we know that playing a club sport does not guarantee our daughter a Division I scholarship, but we also want to give her the best advantage we can in a sport. Rec and club sports do play a role in helping an athlete with a passion pursue her dreams and improve her skills.
What age is it appropriate to have a girl begin rec sports?
We are hesitant to recommend an age because it depends on each girl’s social and emotional maturity. We like to see introductions to rec sports as purely student-driven fun and playing with friends that your daughter likes being around. Parents with young children (younger than 5th Grade) should not think that playing a particular sport is their daughter’s meal ticket to college. There should be no expectations of athletic prowess at this age. Rather, the goal should be to nurture, not force, your daughter’s love for a sport.
A good place to start is to ask your daughter if she has an interest in the sport. Find out what is happening in your neighborhood and with her classmates at GFS. Are they involved in a rec program, and if so, what program? Parent recommendations are the best way to learn about rec leagues.
What are the factors to consider before enrolling my/our daughter in a rec or club sport?
There are many factors and academic parameters that parents need to consider in order to make the best educated decision for their children. Questions to consider:
- What is the time commitment? How does this balance with your daughter’s homework and academic workload? Will she have the time she needs to study?
- Are there practices during the week or just weekends?
- Is there a guarantee of playing time?
- If it is a rec league, does everyone get equal playing time or is it based on ability?
- Is she playing sports at GFS? If your daughter is on a GFS team—and we hope she is—what happens if rec practice starts at 5 PM and GFS practice ends at 5 PM? Is a late arrival to rec practice possible?
- What about family dinners? Other children and their activities?
- Is it affordable for your family? Club sports can be expensive and include fees for uniforms, tournaments, and travel.
- What about your child’s temperament? Rec and club coaches change from year to year. Is your daughter someone who can handle it if a coach is yelling or if it is a highly competitive team?
While most of these questions may only be answered by your family, other parents, neighbors, friends, etc. are a wealth of information on various rec leagues and clubs. Ask around about program specifics, and most important, the experiences families had playing in that program.
You also may talk to the rec and club organizers and coaches. For rec sports, which are typically run by parent volunteers, you might not know your child’s coach until the day of the first practice. The volunteer president of the rec league may be able to help with answers. Usually, this is a parent whose daughter or son is deeply involved in rec sports and is very passionate about the league. Their contact information is usually listed on the team registration webpage.
Most club sports can put you in touch with the coach prior to registering for the sport. Creating a good dialogue with the club sport coach is important before practice starts.
Should my daughter concentrate on one sport, and if so, when should she start?
We do not believe in sports specialization at the middle or high school level. For the physical health of our students athletes, they should be doing a variety of sports, using different muscle groups and playing with different coaches and teams—all good reasons why your child shouldn’t specialize. For more information, read what Johns Hopkins pediatric sports-medicine physician Amy Valasek, M.D., has to say about it in “Little Kids, Big Injuries” (Hopkins Health, April 25, 2012).
Parents understandably want to give their daughter the best advantage. Number one: listen to your daughter. Is specializing in one sport something that she really wants to do? Is she aware of all the trade-offs that come from playing at a high level of club sports? There will be an enormous weekend time commitment. She will have to make trade-offs and miss out on fun with her friends. And she’s going to be tired. She has to be physically and mentally tough to withstand that.
As a coach, do I like to see my athletes doing something outside of the GFS team practices? Yes, I do—and so do my colleagues at GFS. It helps to advance our teams and gives the athlete more exposure and experience in her sport. At GFS, the coaches support each other and our student-athletes. If a girl is really interested in a particular sport outside of school, we support that, but, at the Upper School level, we also need her to have the sport she is playing at GFS be her primary sport. Knowing that, she may need to cut back on outside weekend athletic activities during the GFS season. [NOTE: GFS Upper School teams practice two hours per day; Middle School team practices run for 75-80 minutes.]
Is Middle School too late to start a sport?
Absolutely not! Our Middle School program is a terrific place to start a sport. Depending on our numbers, we may have three teams based on abilities, which gives everyone an opportunity to participate and play and learn both the skills needed for the sport and about teamwork and camaraderie. There can be a learning curve at the beginning. If other students have been playing for a while, your child could feel less advanced. We believe that if it is something that she is interested in, the learning curve will even out. Don’t be too intimidated to begin something in Middle School.
What is Garrison Forest’s philosophy on balancing sports with curricular and other co-curricular activities?
It is truly an individual family decision in terms of how to help your daughter decide how she spends free time beyond homework. We want our students to find balance, which means downtime, too. Downtime is just as important as the athletic time, the music, and the art time. Children need time to decompress and come back fresh. We don’t want to see them exhausted for class and for athletics.
What about summer camps for athletics?
Again, whether or not to participate in sports camps is entirely dependent on a student’s interest and her family’s situation. Factors to consider are dates, times, location, cost, and how a camp might impact your family’s vacation time. What is manageable for your family? Does your daughter want a full-day, full-week immersion in a sport, or would a shorter program be more suitable to her age and interest? If your family is going to be away all summer, there may be a camp at a local school or university where you are vacationing.
There are many local sports camps for younger girls and overnight options a little farther away as the girls get older. For younger girls learning a sport and enjoying it as a social activity, parents may choose to get a group of girls to attend the same sports camp. Start with a web search, use the camp listings in local family publications such as Baltimore’s Child or Maryland Family Magazine, and ask your daughter’s friends’ and teammates’ parents for recommendations. It is important to note that camps and camp personnel often change each year, so the experience that someone had two years ago may be entirely different.
Typically, starting in 9th and 10th Grades, girls may begin going to a sports camp on a college campus where they may be interested in attending. There are also sport specific "showcase" camps where groups of college coaches may be attending. Much like the rec and club sports, these camps can vary in intensity. It's always a good idea to ask your GFS teammates and coaches if she/he knows a particular camp. Keep in mind that attending a sports camp sponsored by a college does not guarantee recruitment to that college.