“Mommy, can I play soccer?” This is a question that I have recently started to hear from my 5-year old daughter. As an avid soccer player and fan, I’m anxious to get her going. I’m ready to buy the gear. I’m anticipating watching her play from the sidelines and the joy that I’ll feel knowing that she’s having fun.
So, I start checking into it. I can’t help myself. I’m ready and she’s starting to express some interest. So, I pull up the websites, I start asking other parents, and I start generally snooping around. And, guess what I find? It’s all there for us. The teams, the uniforms, the leagues, it’s all ready for us. So, why am I hesitating??? Let me tell you. Kids don’t need all that. They don’t. You can read any resource on motor development for children and it will tell you that. They don’t need structured teams, they don’t need uniforms, and they certainly don’t need competition.
Okay, so the league in my home town is 3-v-3. At least that’s the right attitude. Small sided games for the youngest kids. That way, they get the most touches on the ball, they have the opportunity to learn about shape and space and the other tactical concepts that will help them be great soccer players. But, here’s the problem. They shouldn’t be competing at all! Why are they playing towards a goal, keeping score, and worrying about the other team scoring? They don’t need all of that. What they need is the chance to PLAY with a ball. To just run around with a ball and dribble and change directions and learn to pass and that’s it.
Just yesterday, I had the chance to speak to a Director of Coaching about this very issue. And, he told me that he agreed with me. He expressed to me his belief that the 3-v-3 league was not appropriate for this age group, but he explained that because the other clubs offer these leagues and because soccer clubs are money-making entities, they couldn’t figure out how to NOT offer 3-v-3 leagues. So, again, it’s all there. The teams, the uniforms, the leagues, the chance to watch my daughter play a game that I love. But, you know what. I’m going to wait. I’m going to wait until she’s a little bit older. I’m going to take the ball outside with her every chance I get this spring and we’ll knock it around. In fact, we’ll each have a ball. We’ll dribble and pass and run and laugh and we’ll not do it in the structure of a league. And, some days we won’t play soccer. Some days, we’ll play tag. Or, we’ll do artwork or read a book. And, do you know what I’ll bet? I’ll bet that when she does start playing at 7, she won’t be behind. In fact, I’ll bet anyone that she’ll be better than some, the same as others, and worse than some in terms of her soccer skill. But, the other thing that I’ll bet is that my daughter won’t burn out from sport at a young age. I’ll bet that my daughter will stay motivated and happy in her sport experience, will learn how to be active for a lifetime, and will decide if she wants to play the sport that I love, or some other sport, or no sports at all. And, I can wait a couple of years to buy the gear and to watch my daughter participate in an activity and have fun.