How young is too young to play professional sports?

The youngest player in the National Women’s Soccer League was signed by the Washington Spirit on March 3.

Chloe Ricketts, 15, was signed to a three year contract to play pro soccer. Ricketts is a midfielder from Wisconsin who started participating with the team, training with them in January.

The former youngest player in the NWSL is Olivia Moultrie, who currently plays in Portland for the Thorns. Moultrie, now 17, signed when she was 15 years and 286 days old. Ricketts is three days younger than Moultrie was two years ago.

Soccer seems to be the one sport that young athletes can enter and make a difference and compete at the highest level. Back in 2004, Freddy Adu (14 years, 4 months, 29 days) entered a game as a substitute for the San Jose Earthquakes and held that record until 2019, when Francis Jacobs beat him by one day (14 years, 4 months, 28 days).

In men’s sports, basketball used to be the sport where young stars often signed when they graduated high school and were draft eligible. But ever since 2006, the NBA increased age requirements to 19 years old, nullifying any younger players going into the league.

Baseball also has the tendency of signing players out of high school, but the rigorous minor league system gives players a chance to mature and find their way before making it to the big stage. The Mariners signed AL Rookie of the Year Julio Rodriguez in 2017 at just 17 years old, but it took him five years to make it to the big leagues. On top of that, he sped through the farm system quicker than most young prospects.

The question I find myself asking is, how young is too young? If the kids are ready and good enough, shouldn’t they be allowed to participate? If the answer is straight up no, we would’ve had to wait on the Williams sisters, Lebron James and Kobe Bryant, drastically changing their careers.

From another perspective, parents always want the best for their child. But oftentimes there are situations where kids are pushed too far and the focus is on them instead of the athletes. Even the media can put immense pressure on these kids before they can even vote or drive a car — like calling Lebron James “The Chosen One.”

There is also the problem of taking away these kids’ ability to be a kid. Once they sign the dotted line, it’s all work all the time. In an era where mental health is as important as ever, teams need to give these young players every avenue they can.

Ricketts is an awesome icon for young girls everywhere. To know that if you are good enough, you can play with the pros and break records. On the other hand, how many parents see this and want to push their kid to the limit, and how much damage will that cause?

I wish nothing but the best for Ricketts and hope she tears the league up. The Washington Spirit and Ricketts will travel to Seattle just one time this season. The OL Reign take on Washington in October at Lumen Field.

Ben Ray writes about sports for the Federal Way Mirror and its sister newspapers in King County. Contact