Why do kids play soccer? The majority of kids playing soccer today are forced to play by their parents. Don’t get me wrong, there are kids that genuinely play the game because they love it. But I believe they are the minority.
Before I get started, let me unearth a statistic for you. Over 60% of children playing soccer will have quit before they become teenagers. So from the age of 6 to the age of 12, more than half of the kids will disown the sport they supposedly love. The game of soccer hasn’t changed, nor have the rules. Last time I checked there are still 2 goals, one ball and a patch of greenery. Why the sudden mass exodus?
Back when I was a child growing up, soccer was always a game. It was a form of physical activity that required certain levels of fitness. However, it was a form of entertainment that allowed you to have fun with your friends and compete against your neighborhood rivals. Back in the days, I grew up with black and white Televisions and didn’t even own a bicycle till I was in my early teens. My prized possession was the faded, waterlogged, pig skin ball that was given to me at a very young age. I still have possession of that ball even if it’s a little pear shaped now.
When I played soccer at junior level it was all about fun. It was a great way to catch up with my new friends and talk about the victory we had against our street rivals. We only trained twice a week and this didn’t come close to feeding my hunger for the game. Apart from my precious soccer ball, the only thing of value I owned was my trust worthy Liverpool jersey that was a birthday and Christmas present all in one. Times were tough you see. Playing soccer as a youngster was a burden economically, but giving the game away was never an option. So what has changed? Was I misfit growing up?
For starters, soccer was never about the money growing up. Professional soccer players were paid enough to cover their expenses and were left with a few dollars to allow themselves to be called professional soccer players. How times have changed.
Soccer players today give celebrities and rock-stars are run for their money. Super model girlfriends, inflated pay packets and enough media coverage that would make a 2 time Oscar winner drool. Have the young kids of today been blinded by the elusive carrot that is continually dangled in front of them by the media? Are the kids losing their innocence and being robbed of their youth in pursuit of riches?
A survey taken among young players clearly indicated that kids played soccer because it was fun. So why are so many kids leaving the game before their thirteenth birthday? Could it be that soccer is no longer seen as fun but a means to an end? Soccer has become a mass phenomenon with millions of dollars up for grabs. Are parents pushing their children in the pursuit of riches?
Watching junior soccer these days is enough to make you sick. Coaches who have volunteered for the job have no right to yell and scream at children. Some of the stuff I’ve heard over the year’s borders on abuse. Referees forced to quit the game in fear of their lives. Protective parents that lose all sense of reality and threaten opposing parents and children. What a disgrace. Are these the values we want our kids to grow up with?
Most youth players today don’t want to attend training because they hate it. They don’t hate the game, but they hate the pressure that has been deployed on them by egotistical coaches and over protective parents. Sooner or later these kids will turn their back on the game and find refuge in another form of entertainment. Usually this comes in the form of PlayStation.
Don’t let your team or child become a part of this shocking stat. Soccer has many benefits, whether its fitness, developing social skills or simply getting outdoors, the future of children lies in outdoor activities such as soccer, not on the virtual pitch of computers and TV screens. Let the youth play freely with spirit and confidence and stop worrying about whether your son will be your ticket to riches. Don’t steal them of their wonder years because no amount of money will ever replace these years.
If you’re finding it hard to comprehend all this or if you’re guilty of the above, back pedal to the past and remember the fond memories from your childhood. Does it involve strangers yelling at you? Does it involve your parents suffocating you through unrealistic goals and dreams?
When I’m taken back to my wonder years, I can still smell the freshly cut grass. I can still remember the grass burns on my knees and elbows. I can also remember my mum laughing at me after losing another one of my jumpers left behind as a goal post on the field of dreams. I can recall my father telling me to come inside because it’s getting dark and yelling back, “I cant this is the winning goal!” The kids I grew up in the streets have now become my closest friends and till this day we still argue about bragging rights and who in fact was the best player/team. We are bonded by those magical days where we mimicked playing for United and lifting the European cup. We played with passion, determination, discipline until the ball was kicked over the fence and chased away by our neighbors.
So next time your at the soccer, remember your wonder years before yelling out abuse or instructions. Don’t deny your kids or any kids the chance to experience life and the glory of dreaming one day that they will in fact play for the big clubs of Europe. Let them play freely and make mistakes upon mistakes, it’s not them that set the bar too high. Lower the bar and let your kids believe that they are playing on the big stage already. Without confidence and self esteem, your child will never get to experience the wonder years. Do you want to be responsible for this?
Imagining you’re playing in the World Cup and scoring the winner only to be chased away by your neighbor for destroying her garden. Priceless.
For those who have read this post to the end, thank you so much. Would love to hear your thoughts. Leave a comment; let’s talk about the wonder years.