Are all sports this competitive nowadays?

I have elementary aged children that would like to do some sports for fun, but looking at the offerings, it seems like many are very competitive, require a lot of family investment in terms of money and time, and require a lot of investment in terms of training for the kids. I just grew up playing soccer with my friends on the weekends, and some of those kids went on to do great things in High School without this much training. Can someone please enlighten me as what is the new sports ecosystem nowadays?

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My daughter has done soccer shots in Berkeley that introduced her to the sport (which she didn’t fall in love with) without the huge strain on resources )time energy money). However spots did fill quickly. 
She had some classmates that found a softball program through the city of Piedmonts rec department that was pretty reasonable in cost/time commitment. I’d check that direction if your children want to try sports before investing a ton of resources. Hope this helps!

All of the area soccer leagues offer rec soccer in addition to competitive soccer--that's what you want to look for if you want something low-key. It sounds like you may have inadvertently been looking at the competitive teams. Rec teams are coached by parent volunteers, practice only once a week (and not at all in the spring--games only) and have a nominal registration fee, whereas competitive teams practice more often, have more games, cost much more, and have professional coaches. Our kids have played rec soccer with Piedmont, EBU, and Clippers over the years and all three are very mellow and not at all competitive (much to one kid's chagrin!) I have heard the same for Alameda and Albany/Berkeley, so I'd just start with the league closest to you and see where you can still register. Similarly, there's low-key rec basketball through city rec departments and local YMCAs if that's more up your child's alley, and similar options for other sports as well. While there are certainly kids who go the competitive route early on, the majority of elementary-aged kids we know who play sports play recreationally in relatively non-competitive leagues.

This is just my experience, but from what I have seen it is very difficult for kids to play only rec sports and then participate in school sports at high school (and sometimes middle school level). It varies across sports, but for e.g. soccer, baseball, volleyball there are club teams for very young ages (especially soccer) and by the time they get to high school some of these kids have been training year-round for almost a decade, sometimes supplemented by private lesson and camps. Also, the kids who play on a club team together have an advantage in team sports because of the synergies, as well as the fact that e.g. a volleyball setter will be more likely to set, and a soccer player more likely to pass to, a friend/trusted teammate from their club team. That said, my sporty daughter played no sports until middle school years, started volleyball in 8th grade and is now a decent player on her high school team. But she was VERY dedicated to improving and spent a ton of her own time practicing, plus I am able to support her efforts by playing with her and sending her to extra camps, etc. It's pretty clear to me that if she had started even a year or two earlier she would have had a very different experience. Her cousin had a similar experience with soccer, he's a good player who has always done rec, but couldn't outcompete with the club players to get a spot on the high school team. 

Here are a few that I've found to be enjoyable and instructional:

Soccer Together is ALL about skill development while having fun and making friends. Great coaches!

Aztec Tennis (at least at the beginner level, it's also the same approach. Haven't experienced more advanced classes yet

UC Berkeley Youth Sports: If your kid is proficient at swimming but not interested/ready for a swim team, UC Rec Sports offers a 'pre-team' series that does more refined skill building and drills to increase endurance, but still in a non-competitive way, including some games.…;

Have fun! 

I am in the same boat! I just want my kids to get some exercise, socialization and fun-- with multiple sports. I have no interest in having them super-specialized before the age of 10, revolving our lives around it and my daughters getting repetitive stress injuries.

At least for soccer I'd note that many clubs have Competitive as well as Rec teams-- Rec teams typically only practice 1x week + Saturday game, are not traveling for tournaments, are much cheaper, and are run through volunteer (parent) coaches. We plan to sign up my younger daughter for this route. 

You can look into Rec Leagues, but in general, I can commiserate. My college sophomore mentioned that at his incredibly large, something-for-everyone university, there are no noncompetitive sports opportunities except pick up games. Even the clubs who take everyone were still filled with high skilled and competitive players. Thinking he missed something, I reached out to the parent group and got 0 suggestions. So I think the short answer is yes. :(

I have two adult "kids" and I noticed this with them even 10-20 years ago. One wanted to join "recreational" soccer at age 11 or 12, and it was already too late, he couldn't learn the skills to keep up at that point. My other one participated in several sports and activities, as long as the commitment was no more than 1-2 days per week (her choice), which starting from about age 10, was hard to find. I suggest checking with your local YMCA or public recreation department for sports and classes that have a low time commitment and are truly recreational.

My kids started out playing sports for fun. We had no intention for moving toward competitive athletics for them; however; they are all now competitive athletes, per their own choice. I don’t know if I’d say it’s the best route but pretty early on, we saw the two roads diverge: club for fun versus playing for the longer term. Still, there are tons of leagues for kids to play for fun and sometimes I wish my kids would go back to that type of environment. What I think might have changed is that there are just as many young athletes gearing up for competitive athletes (meaning “gearing” them up for varsity level, college or beyond). Many parents pay top dollar for their kids to play a sport (“pay to play”). This stiffens the competition…other might  say it elevates the experience. I believe so much of the competitive aspect are parents helping to mastermind college entrances or high level high school team players so they are the star of the team. You will see this right away - where our kids train, the coaches call it bulldozer parenting and everyone sort of knows the level of competition to expect. Many parents will go elsewhere to have an experience more aligned with what they are looking for. You might have to sift through some clubs, teams and training before you find a good fit. 

In our experience, recreation centers are a great place to start. It’s still low cost and people are there to learn and have fun. Our kids no longer play soccer, but really enjoyed the soccer leagues in the area. As parents, we never felt like there weren’t options for more club-for-fun options. Also, when he had no idea where to start, we went to the parks and watched youth sports there and got more insight there - which teams are more chill and so on. 

It can be a tough landscape out there but there’s still a lot of fun. I want to add in “lessons learned the hard way”: things get very expensive so keep that in mind. There are certain sports, like tennis, where a private coaching session is $200 per hour and at some point they get you into 3 sessions per week. So the gear isn’t much of a cost but the learning curve is challenging and expensive. Back in the day, running was affordable. I heard the lacrosse team in our area that’s recreational has, on average $2,000+ of unexpected expenses. Just something to think about and would recommend asking about those hidden expenses (travel, etc). 

I still think sports are so important for kids. If anything, the lessons gained as they learn how to get a little better at something they enjoy doing.