The Sports Parent Network
Helping parents guide their children through youth sports
Levels of Play

The answers to youth sports issues and questions often depend on the level of play involved.  On this web site we introduce three levels of play: recreational, clinical, and competitive.

Recreational Levels

Recreational levels are for pure fun.  Recreational leagues are designed for athletes who enjoy the game and are not necessarily pursuing ambitious goals for skill building or elite performance.  From a sports parent perspective, the main concern is that recreational leagues be safe and fun for all.

Clinical Levels

Clinical levels of play include programs in which teaching the game is the main goal. Some clinical leagues are designed to introduce the game to beginners, while others are designed to help more experienced players take their game to the next level.  A YMCA league for elementary schoolers might be a good example of a clinical league for beginners, and such beginner leagues can be found for older children as well.  Clinical leagues also exist for advance players who want to spend the off-season honing specific skills.  From a sports parent perspective, the main point is that players in clinical leagues should receive roughly equal instruction and playing time.

Competitive Levels

Competitive levels of play include programs in which winning is the main goal.  This would include many middle school, freshman, and JV programs, and virtually all high school varsity programs. Most selective travel teams are highly competitive as well.  From a sports parent perspective, the main point is that most competitive teams are selective (i.e. they can make cuts), and not every player gets the position or playing time they would like.  Nevertheless, even at the highest levels of competition, every participant has a right to receive meaningful instruction from a coach. 

Which is it?

Most programs beyond the purely recreational have some elements of clinical play and competitive play. 
Problems may arise when there is confusion or uncertainty about which takes precedence - clinical teaching or competing to win. 

It is fair (and important) to ask any coach or program manager whether they see the program is primarily clinical or primarily competitive. 

If the program is primarily clinical, then it is fair to expect good instruction and substantial playing time for each player on the team. 

If the program is primarily competitive, then it is still fair to expect good instruction, but positions and playing time are up to the coach. 

The main thing is to clarify the level of play early on, and expect the coach and player and parents to act accordingly.