When my daughter said she wanted to give up soccer and instead run cross country in high school, I admit I was a little disappointed. She’d been playing since she was 8 or 9, and it seemed a shame that after all those years and all that training she wouldn’t play at the high school level.
Or maybe a bit more accurately: it was a shame that I wouldn’t get to enjoy sitting in the stands for 4 years watching high school soccer games.
One of the problems with youth soccer in the U.S. is that players who want to be really good end up playing virtually all year. Outdoors in fall and spring. Indoors over the winter. Camp in the summer. Footskills sessions. It requires a lot of time, and a lot of miles logged on parents’ cars. After a while, instead of being fun it becomes a grind.
I realized this, having coached some of her teams and seeing players become burned out. So despite my own selfish desire to see her play on the high school pitch, no way was I going to question or discourage her choice.
The dirty secret of youth soccer (and other youth sports) is this: in many ways it’s more about the parents and coaches than it is about the kids.
To see this firsthand just drive down to Lodi (Ohio) on a Saturday, which is where all the “premier” teams play. You’ll see an army of kids dressed up to look like little professionals, with matching warm-ups and equipment bags. You’ll see parents wearing their own team gear, as if they were there to see Manchester United play Chelsea. The worst part is what you’ll hear: parents and coaches yelling — at the kids on the field, at the referees, sometimes at other parents. Parents and coaches talk about “our” team as if they were out there playing.
When I went to coaching school, right about the time my daughter started to play, one of the teachers (who was from Scotland as I recall) said something I never forgot: when you are standing on the sidelines yelling instructions to your team, who are you doing it for? You or them?
In that instant I had one of those “aha” moments of understanding. All that stuff that parents and coaches do is for their own egos, and not for the kids.
So when my daughter decided she wanted to give up the sport she’d played for so long, I was immediately brought back to that moment, and my answer was clear.
Next: Why I Ended Up Loving Cross Country