How does a young athlete make the varsity squad?
Practice. Practice. Practice. It also helps to have step-by-step instruction from a qualified coach. Most of the programs mentioned below are run by local recreation departments or for-profit sports facilities. Here is the typical path to varsity for a number of the most popular sports in the Lower Hudson Valley based on input from some of the top club and high school coaches:
Backyard: It starts with throwing a ball around, then moves to a plastic ball and bat.
T-ball: The introduction to real baseball and softball where a pack of 6-year-olds chases the ball and picks dandelions.
Little League: It begins at the age of 7 on a diamond where the base paths are usually 60 feet and the mound is 46 feet away. Coaches do the pitching initially. The next step is the 50-70 diamond for 10-, 11- and 12-year-olds. Most towns have summer all-star teams, as well.
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Travel: Club teams generally range from 9u-18u and have professional coaches. The level of talent varies from one program to the next. The number of games and practices usually depends on the goals of each organization. Some clubs stay close to home, others travel up and down the East Coast.
Modified: Every middle school player on the roster usually gets a chance to play.
Junior varsity: This is where a lack of size and strength really becomes an issue that can lead to getting cut in tryouts.
Varsity: Most players finally have to earn their at-bats and innings.
Showcase: This is a club team with an experienced coach that plays highly competitive tournaments and provides college-bound players a chance to show off a little.
(Anthony Yacco is a former minor league baseball player in the Giants system who runs 4D Sports Performance Center in Mahopac and coaches the New York Swarm.)
Grow-to-Pro: Every budding superstar needs the Fisher-Price hoop made specifically for toddlers ages 2-4 that is small enough to fit in the living room.
Biddy basketball: Very basic skill development and controlled play for 4- to 6-year-olds. Having fun with the game is the top priority.
Developmental: Offers more advanced skill development and play with monitors to keep the ball moving and stricter enforcement of the rules for kids ages 7-8.
Recreation leagues: Real games with referees. Most towns let second- or third-graders compete and keep them playing into high school. Usually inexpensive.
CYO: Usually a step up from rec in terms of competition. Play also begins in the second grade and there is limited travel.
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House leagues: Here is where rec teams, school teams and CYO teams come for additional games, all of them played at places like Hooperstown in Mount Vernon or Brewster Sports Center in Brewster.
Modified: A developmental school team made up of seventh- and eighth-graders.
Junior varsity: For the freshmen and sophomores good enough to make the cut.
Varsity: This is where the best 15 kids in the high school end up.
AAU: There are normally three levels of play in each age group 9u-18u. This is where college-bound talents occupy the top rung of the ladder. Most elite teams travel regionally or nationally.
(Al Morales is the athletic director at Brewster Sports Center. He’s the boys varsity coach at Kennedy Catholic along with the Lightning/AAU commissioner for New York.)
Gym class: It’s such a unique sport and many kids never see it until middle school.
Youth development programs: This is where the youngsters who might have an interest go to learn basic skills and rules.
Summer camps and clinics: For those players looking to refine skills and play loosely organized games.
Futures programs: Offseason training and development for competitive players. Usually starts around 7th or 8th grade.
Modified: A chance to practice with classmates and compete against other middle schoolers.
Junior varsity: The games begin to get a little more heated among freshmen and sophomores.
Showcase teams: A local coach with a strong field hockey background trains and takes a team on the regional tournament circuit. Usually includes 14u, 15u, 16u and 17u squads.
Varsity: For the best players in each high school, although cuts are very rare.
(Sharon Sarsen recently became the winningest field hockey coach in New York state and her Lakeland High School teams have won seven consecutive NYSPHSAA titles).
Group skating: This can be in an organized class or a free skate with mom and dad, but the next step can’t be taken until the kids have the ability to remain upright.
Mites: Usually in-house. A fun environment that brings 6- and 7-year-olds into hockey with skill development and cross ice games.
Squirts: For the 10u set. This is where things start to get competitive with full-ice games. There is some travel and moms do yell at refs.
Pee-wee: This is where the better players begin to separate themselves. There are tournaments for the 12u set and everybody wants to go play in Quebec.
Bantam: Now the game is more physical. Checking is allowed in 14u play and the programs competing at the highest level begin to see prep and college coaches in the stands.
Modified: No high school sport has a higher cost per participant, so there aren’t many of these teams in Section 1.
Junior varsity: See above.
Midgets: A real test of dedication to the sport. Keeps the 15u and 16u players busy from August to April with 60-70 games played while college coaches take notes.
Varsity: Playing hockey in school sweaters while classmates shiver and scream is a highlight, even for junior players who have competed all over the country.
(Chris Lombardo is the varsity coach at Mahopac High School and the hockey director at Brewster Ice Arena.)
Backyard: Playing around with fiddle sticks is a blast once the kids stop hitting each other with the miniature equipment. Wait until the age of 4 or 5 before introducing the basics.
Youth: The rules start to come into play in kindergarten. It’s usually a town-based program where the emphasis is on instruction and fun and games are played on smaller fields.
Travel: Clubs now dominate the scene. Most offer third- or fourth-grade teams. Some combine that group. The level of skill and competition increases each year. The cost usually goes up, too. Only the most dedicated players last through 11th grade travel.
Modified: Probably a step down for the middle school players who travel all summer.
Junior varsity: The college-bound stars are usually on varsity so the unheralded underclassmen get a chance to shine.
Varsity: Many of the best high school coaches also run the most popular travel programs and the competition is strong enough to challenge even the best players in the country.
(Nick Daniello is a varsity boys assistant coach at John Jay along with the director of Prime Time Lacrosse, which produced 19 Division I players last year.)
Backyard: What toddler doesn’t enjoy kicking an appropriately sized ball around in the yard with relatives and friends?
Youth: Usually the first organized team sport a child plays at the age of 5 or 6. There are hundreds of rec and club teams all of which offer basic skill development and loosely competitive games.
Pre-travel: Snack time remains important to 6- and 7-year-old kids, but this is where teams begin to practice and lose the pack mentality.
Travel: Welcome to the stress of tryouts. They start at 8u and run through 18u with the competition and miles increasing with age.
Modified: The game becomes more physical in middle school.
Junior varsity: Getting on the field in a close game requires more than desire.
Academy: It’s all soccer, all year. This is where the college prospects go in hopes of gaining more exposure and high-level experience.
Varsity: Unlike club soccer, there are more than just parents in the stands for big games.
(Tim Peabody is the longtime Pearl River varsity girls soccer coach, who has also led a number of travel and club teams over the years.)