Fun In Games: Is there a 'too young' for serious play?

Fun In Games: Is there a 'too young' for serious play?

April 15th, 2014 by Barry Courter and Jay Greeson in Sports - Columns


Times Free Press staff writers Jay Greeson and Barry Courter periodically will discuss issues in youth sports. Barry spent 20 years coaching his son and his daughter in a variety of sports; Jay is starting his second season coaching coach-pitch baseball. If you have any questions you'd like addressed in this discussion, email them to or

JAY: Barry, just back from the land of green jackets and pimento cheese sandwiches. Watching the best in golf play at the best course in golf is amazing.

BARRY: I hope you told everybody, "Goober says, 'Hey,'" for me.

JAY: Of course. Most of these guys started playing golf when they were shorter than a short iron, and in fact Jordan Spieth, who finished tied for second, apparently shot a 63 at age 11. Which got me thinking, how young is too young, or is there a "too young" in this day and age?

BARRY: It would have been interesting to have asked Tiger Woods that question. I know he didn't play last week because of back problems, but I think he started in the womb, right?

It's an interesting question isn't it? Looking back, I sort of see it now as a question of what is the ultimate goal? If the kid wants to play and can pay attention and not be a total distraction to the others, let them play whenever they can. For fun. A lot of parents, however, who would like to see their kids play competitively in high school or beyond think it's a sprint and that their kid needs to get a jump on the competition. What I think is often overlooked is that if you start your kid at 4 or 5, by the time he or she is a freshmen or sophomore in high school, he's played for almost 10 years. If he does any kind of travel or serious tournament type play, he will have racked up more miles and seen more hotel rooms than I did in my first 30 years of living combined.

He will have also been told "This is the most important game of your life" about a hundred times. I've seen a lot of kids who hit 12 and say, "Been there, done that. I want to go swimming with my friends."

JAY: The reason I am encouraging my 6-year-old to play whatever sport he's interested in -- right now it's baseball, last summer it was golf, this fall it may be football, or who knows -- is because of the experiences and memories and life lessons I know athletics gave me.

That's my goal, and those lessons are valuable at 6 and at 66.

BARRY: Oh, I agree with that. It's a lot of fun. I guess I'm making a distinction between playing for fun and trying to make it a career. My oldest started baseball at 4. I've told you the story of how pumped I was about his tryout, drawing the attention of all the coaches. It wasn't until we were walking up for his first practice that I realized he didn't know first base from the end zone because we hadn't practiced that in the yard at home.

My daughter played baseball at 6 and actually was asked to play on the all-star team but declined because it was "going to be hot." She then decided she didn't like that the other team had to lose, so she got into gymnastics. She didn't play a competitive sport (soccer) until age 9. She got over the uber-sensitivity thing, by the way.

I don't think there is a magic age, as every kid is different. I do think travel ball for kids under 10, and maybe even under 12, is a bad idea, though. But, unfortunately, we adults have over-organized things to the point that you almost have to sign up for a travel team to play. This is especially so in baseball and soccer.

Does anybody play pickup games anymore?