I start off most of my introduction sessions by asking athletes, “In a perfect world, what does ‘The End’ look like for you regarding soccer?” (aka when all is said and done and you go to hang up your boots what do you want to have accomplished with soccer?) One of the things that surprised me the most was that a good majority of the kids were NOT saying they wanted to be pro soccer players. Don’t get me wrong, of course some of the kids expressed a desire to play at the highest level possible but even those who wanted to play professional still expressed a desire to look back and know they pushed themselves, that they accomplish hard tasks and proved to themselves they could do it. They also wanted to make their parents proud, have fun, make friends, and pay for college.
As a young consultant I was genuinely shocked.These were very well thought out answers from my young clients that were more than just wanting to play pro ball. The most interesting thing however was this disconnect from athlete to parent. Parents always seems to focus on their child needing to be the best NOW. This immediate feeling that if my child is not having success now or is not the best now, that it is somehow going to mean that their whole experience and time in soccer is going to be a waste.
This next paragraph has been adapted from an excerpt from Henrik Hoeg, a director of literacy in child development, to specifically speak towards soccer and athletics.
“Soccer, like so much learning, is not a rush to the finish line. The child that crawls first does not necessarily become and Olympic sprinter, and the child that is pressured to kick a ball as soon as they can walk does not become the next Messi. However, what the child does gain is unnecessary stress, a disdain for sports and a notion that athletic achievement is an end in and of itself. It’s a notion many of us could stand to discard.”
We’re living in a generation where everyone’s highlight reels are being put out on display in the form of social media. Kids are constantly feeling like they are drowning in the ever rising expectations. These pressures eventually lead to higher burnout and dropout rates with athletes.
So, what can you do? There is good news, as parents are in a great position to counteract some of what is going wrong. How?
It starts by not buying into the idea that wins/loss is any indication of your child’s success. There is only one state cup championship team every year and just because their team didn’t win this year isn’t a good enough reason to jump ship and make your child abandon their club team or panic that your child’s development is in complete jeopardy. If your child is completely happy where they are at, please let them be. Your definition of success and your child's maybe completely different. Respect them, listen to them, this is their journey not yours. If THEY would like to make changes and it’s something you have discussed together by all means listen to your child but do not go out swinging the sword fighting battles left and right for your child.
Another tip for parents, before you ask your child if they won or lost, ask them if they played well, if they worked hard, and if they had fun. If your child is answering yes to all three questions then you have done your job as a parent. Not every child is going to be a super star, not every child will want to be a professional athlete, that’s okay. If you child wants to be a superstar that's okay too, the questions remain the same, did they play well, did they work hard, and did they have fun. This game teaches you so much more about life than just how to kick a ball around. Let your child learn from the game.