I have three boys. Three athletes, three soccer players, and most importantly … three kids.
I played soccer my entire life. In my college days playing at UCF, I came to realize that it was okay to NOT play competitive sports. I learned playing at a competitive level wasn’t the end all be all in my life. I grew to understand it was more important to build healthy habits, stay active, be confident in who I was, have mental strength, be kind, and all of the positive attributes that we all know and want for ourselves and our kids.
But for kids, why are sports so important? Because of all of the above and much more … plus FUN!
Our kids having FUN and enjoying playing and learning the game are the most important aspects of their involvement in their sport. However, being that I am present on the field and on the sidelines running a youth recreational AND competitive organization, I tend to observe parents and coaches, at times, taking the FUN out of soccer. Kids today are dropping out of youth sports more frequently due to the high pressure being put on them at such a young age.
Just this week I read one of the best quotes I have ever read on the challenging task of parenthood. The referenced quote is impactful:
“We worry so much what they will be tomorrow, that we forget who they are today.”
In my opinion, this is the biggest truth in ALL of youth sports today.
Once, coaching high school, I went with my team to play in a city park in the Osceola County area. While there, I observed a father training his son right next to the playground. This little boy was approximately nine years old, and the practice was extremely well thought-out and intense! Lots of sprints, push-ups, more sprints, more push-ups, and when the little boy dropped his intensity, he had to pay with a full lap around the field. In one of the laps, this hardworking kid passed by my team of teenagers with tears in his eyes.
Let’s not forget the boy was approximately nine years old.
This is just one true story. Sadly, this is happening more and more around the country due to the level of competition in all sports at all levels. I’m sure many parents can attest to observing a similar situation with a child. And one that hasn’t even hit “double digits” yet!
In the last couple years, I’ve had the pleasure to work with some professional soccer players and professional athletes from other sports. A similar story from all of them – what they liked the most about their younger years playing sports was not how many trophies they won, but the memories they built along the way. David Beckham said it best: “No one cared how many trophies I won when I was 10 years old.”
I’m not saying that hard work is not important; it is! Building a great work ethic in every step of a career in sports or in “normal life” is a must. But, please remember that learned hard work must come along with a foundation of a lot of excitement, friendship and FUN! As parents and coaches, we are to set the stage by teaching our children this balance.
There are many ways to work with a child’s mobility, coordination and fitness, and not forgetting to implement the FUN of the game, which is the main reason they started in the first place. As coaches, we need to be very careful on how we approach the development in the sport. The workout of a college player cannot be applied in the same manner to a child of elementary or middle school age. Physically, their body is not there, and mentally, even if they have dreams of playing at a higher level, they have to build up that mental stamina.
Spain has the top soccer academies in the world. They revolutionized the game a couple of years ago with soccer development for children. To make a long story really short, here is a brief summary of their development strategy:
Ages 3-6: Completely FUN and imaginary. The kids need to relate the physical activity to their own world. Let their creativity guide the practice. Guidance is more important than coaching here.
Ages 6-9: Fundamentals with FUN! At this age, they should be learning the basics of the game, lots of touches on the ball (soccer-specific), and small sized fields. The coaches must be actively involved at all times.
Ages 9-12: Lots of fundamentals and repetition. Lots of FUN! By now, some competition is implemented, but winning is NOT the most important thing.
Ages 13 and Up: Competition is implemented, but with the basics in mind still, enjoying the game, fundamentals are everything, win and lose as ladies and gentlemen.
At NONA, I consistently impress upon our families a simple non-negotiable:
Kids play. Coaches coach. Parents cheer.
There is never a reason a parent should be yelling at their child or coaching from the sidelines. Never. No matter the result of the play or the game. The car ride home should be a safe place where he or she can openly talk about their practice or game because THEY are the ones wanting to play.
Remember, YOU are their biggest role model, and positive feedback is the most important thing you can do as a parent. And with that positive support, they will look forward to going back to the field or court for more … because at the end of the day, the child does it for the FUN!
Fabio Silva, Founder of Nona Soccer Academy
Recreational & Competitive Youth Soccer (Ages 3-13)
SOCCER IS ONLY HALF OUR STORY