I have a son, Bashful, who is 8. He is finishing 3rd grade this year. He is a nice boy. Not too aggressive, but loves to run. He is competitive but not enough to make other kids uncomfortable. He also doesn’t like to push past being tired or uncomfortable. Bashful is obedient and literal. If you say you do this don’t do this he will obey. You say stay in this box, he will stay.
He started playing soccer with the local park and rec teams in first grade. You know, the teams with the volunteer coaches, who are typically parents and really, the kids just kick at the ball and try to get it into the net. There are no positions, no offsides, not really any rules at all.
During second grade, my son was generally faster than the rest of the kids. This resulted in scoring many goals and quickly being pulled to the sidelines. Park and Rec soccer seemed to be too easy for the kid. We started looking for other options for soccer.
We are in a small town, but a soccer town. All over the town you see club soccer kids playing on various fields. My son participated in these club clinics the following summer. He enjoyed the kids, the drills and the skills he learned with the club. When asked if he wanted to join last fall, Bashful thought it was a great idea.
However, club soccer isn’t the same as park and rec. You learn the game. The real rules. The real positions. The competitive kids. The intensive parents and coaches. All while the team had played together in this fashion for 3 previous seasons.
Bashful struggled through the first season. He felt out of place in more ways than just his soccer IQ. The pressure killed him. He felt out of place. The kids knew each other, the rules, their positions and he was the outsider in every way shape and form. By the end of fall season, he didn’t want to go and play anymore.
While we as parents knew there was a learning curve, we encouraged him to sign up for the spring season. Just give it one more go we said.
Spring season was where his confidence just dwindled. He would have breakdowns before going onto the field due to not knowing his positions as well as the other kids. Coach A, his coach, worked very well to help decrease Bashful’s insecurities. He gave him opportunities to score and didn’t harp on him for being in the wrong place at the wrong time. However, Coach A ended up not being at a lot of games at the end of the season. Coach B stepped in to coach a lot of games at the end of the season. Sadly, he was opposite of Coach A in every single way. He yelled a lot, benched kids for under performance, Coach A even was yellow carded (seriously during an 8 yr old game)!
Bashful shut down at the end. Stopped trying. He was goofing off rather than playing because hey, he will get yelled at even if he tries so why bother?
7 out of 10 kids quit youth sports by age 13. That is a whopping 70%. How crazy is that!?
Now I am not a proponent of the “everyone wins” mentality or the everyone needs a participation trophy thought. However, the intensity needs to wait until late middle/ high school ages in my opinion. When kids understand how sports work as well as what it means to push past the pain then yes, change the way sports are played.
My child, Bashful, is totally out of love with soccer, a game that he at least really enjoyed. His confidence as an athlete is squashed. It breaks my heart a confidence building activity killed his confidence.
Thankfully, I am not alone in this. The Race to Nowhere in Youth Sports is an organization that sees these sort of problems, and problems that are worse than the ones I experienced with our Club. I can also say that I am partially at fault in this. I suggested the club, thinking a bit of a challenge would help him flourish not diminish his confidence in athletics.
So before we push our kids on the soccer field, the basketball court, football field or on the ice rink, just give it a second thought, because we are working backwards now to rebuild the confidence my son once had. Sports are a game. Games should be fun. Let’s keep it that way.