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Young ‘pros’ could be missing out on opportunities
Justis column: It’s an opportunity of a lifetime, but it could leaving home, friends can take a toll
Nancy Justis - correspondent
Mar. 27, 2023 1:00 pm
I recently read a post about a 15-year-old girl signing a three-year contract with the Washington Spirit.
With the signature, she became the youngest contracted player in the National Women’s Soccer League, breaking a record set in 2021 by three days.
The girl, Chole Ricketts, is only a sophomore in high school. She will continue her education virtually during the season.
A star midfielder, at 14 she became the youngest rostered player for Association Football Club Ann Arbor, which is a preprofessional USL W League. In 2021, she played for the boys’ team which won the Michigan State Cup.
The NWSL’s under-18 rule was implemented this past offseason after a suit was filed against the organization for the right to play before the age of 18.
The rule dictates that under-18 players must live with a parent or legal guardian until they turn 18. She also cannot be waived or traded until she’s 18 without both her and the guardian’s consent.
I don’t know how I feel about this, particularly if it becomes a trend. Obviously, not very many youth athletes, either female or male, will have the credentials that this girl has. However, youth sports are becoming more and more like high school and elite club sports in terms of their focus and operations.
I have debated in the past about trophies and medals at young ages, particularly for just participation; about too many games played compared to training and development time; about further and further travel demands; and the focus on winning rather than having fun, to mention just a few problems that need to be addressed in youth sports.
I can understand the lure for this girl and her parents. She obviously loves what she does, the offer is very complementary, the money can’t hurt (although, is it enough for the girl and guardian to live on away from home?), the experiences can be positive and provide lifelong lessons.
On the other side of the coin, is a 15-year-old mature enough to leave home, her family, her friends, her school to take on such an endeavor? I realize this happens quite frequently with athletes training for the Olympics, but it seems as if all of these young people are missing out on so many things.
Like prom, time to explore other opportunities, time to pursue additional activities such as music, theater and participation in other sports.
Burnout can happen before college even rolls around.
Can a 15-year-old manage emotions surrounding tough and demanding coaches, coaches who tend to criticize more than they provide positive reinforcement?
Parents need to think long and hard about this kind of opportunity. Is their child ready? Is the child going to be able to continue to grow and step up to the challenge, or would it be better to continue the process at an appropriate age level? Is the opportunity going to be there in the future?
I honestly don’t know how I would react if my child was given this opportunity. It really depends upon the individual situation. What is important is not to push the opportunity if the child appears to be hesitant or only has stars in her eyes.
Nancy Justis is a former competitive swimmer and college sports information director. She is a partner with Outlier Creative Communications. Let her know what you think at email@example.com