When you are a parent of a child playing sports, it is not all fun and games.

Having two boys who have played team sports, I have discovered that the honeymoon of the "sports are fun" concept is quite short. The competitive and political nature of youth athletics begins before children reach double digits.

Recently I attended a basketball tournament, and I was amazed at how competitive some of the teams were with kids who appeared to be 8 or 9 years old.

I'm talking about kids who had no reservations about bumping into one another or driving to the hoop and falling to the hard, wooden floor out-of-bounds.

Here's the Catch-22 on youth sports: If your child isn't good enough, he is not going to get as much playing time as another child who is, yet if he doesn't get to play that much, he's not going to gain experience playing the sport.

Therefore, if a parent is serious about his child playing at a level good enough not for the pros, not even for colleges, but for high schools, then the parent is going to have to use other ways for that child to become better.

I was aware of these travel teams, private groups coached by independent contractors, where the sport is played for real. We never put out sons in travel teams because it sounded like too much pressure too early. Now that our oldest is going into high school, I wished I had at least tried a travel team.

He tried out for the summer basketball team and made it. However, it is clear that many of his teammates have been playing at a higher level for quite some time. We are trying to have him improve quickly before the next tryouts occur in the fall by doing extra drills and conditioning exercises.

Even then, he has an uphill battle to catch up to these other players.

So here's some advice: Before your kids turn 10, have them play the sport as often as possible, pay for private lessons and/or travel clubs, and find an agent. Otherwise, their playing days may over at age 9.

Teacher BRIAN CROSBY is the author of "Smart Kids, Bad Schools," and "The $100,000 Teacher."