Unfortunately, this answer is in direct contradiction to what some people might call "conventional youth sports wisdom." Such conventional wisdom states that a "competitive" youth sports experience is supposed to happen at the expense of an "enjoyable" one.
The problem is that such wisdom, especially when combined with the push to specialize early, the emphasis on winning over development, the mythology surrounding 10,000 hours of deliberate practice, and the unrealistic pursuit of scholarships, is very hard to combat. It has become the status quo, not to be argued nor questioned, regardless of any science showing otherwise.
To illustrate how difficult it is to combat conventional wisdom, may I present the case of RICE: Rest, Ice, Compression and Elevation for a sprain or muscle strain. Most people have heard this acronym. Everyone has been told RICE is the way to deal with sprains and strains. Since we were kids; its easy to remember, and easy to do on your own and at home. Yet there is increasing evidence that it is completely wrong, and that it actually inhibits healing. Even Dr. Gabe Mirkin, who coined the term RICE in 1978, has recently come out against it, and said he may have been wrong. New studies show that while ice helps with pain control, it prevents inflammation, and thus delays healing. Yet look up nearly any major sporting website, Wikipedia, you name it, and there it is, RICE as the recommended remedy for sprains and strains. It is hard to change conventional wisdom!
We face the same problem trying to convince parents and coaches that competition, learning and enjoyment actually belong together!
As I have written before, top sports scientists tell us that children need three things to become high-performers: autonomy, intrinsic motivation and enjoyment. The enjoyment part is so often lost in the shuffle of private coaching, year- round commitments, and early specialization. Yet enjoyment is absolutely crucial.
In fact, I would go so far as to say that unless your child's desire to play and enjoyment of play matches the effort needed to succeed, he or she will never make the commitment necessary to get to the next level.
The problem is that we now equate enjoyment with not trying our best, and this is wrong. Athletes who are enjoying themselves naturally try harder. Elite athletes love to play. This enjoyment and passion did not start when they went to college or the pros; it has been there since day one. As Lionel Messi states in this video, "I didn't compare myself to anyone. I just enjoyed playing."
The problem is conventional wisdom tells us that having fun in training will not develop competence. Yet science tells us that when children have fun doing something, they will do it longer. They will do it more often, outside of practice as well as during practice. By default, they will develop more competence and confidence!