Monday, April 23, 2012
As your time in youth soccer develops, many of you may face one of two scenarios: One – your child asks to pursue a higher level of soccer; Two – your child asks to quit soccer altogether. Each case has very different responses and outcomes but they are both interconnected. The attitude you exhibit can both overshadow your response and change outcomes. Because we parents always have an investment in our children’s activities and their successes, we often interject our hesitations and expectations into their choices. This can translate into an impulsive reaction to their desires.
Take for example a child’s request to play a higher level of soccer. You have all heard how expensive it can be to move to a travel team. Then you hear the discussions of extended practices, lots of out-of-state travel and, oh yes, the travel team has fields 30 minutes from home. You enjoy watching your child play, but you’ve been happy with the local team filled with friends from school that you can carpool with and familiar parents that can make the sidelines fun. In addition, your child is one of the top, if not the top, players. Why mess with success? You don’t envision your child as a college or even a high school player, so you don’t see the need for any advanced training especially adding more money and driving into the equation. Therefore, your reaction might have either overtones of anger or frustration which could stop any discussion dead. Or your reaction could convey disappoint that your child would even ask.
I have always said that no family should overextend themselves to provide soccer training for their children. You need to conserve resources and use them equally among family members. But you also need to recognize when a child exhibits a passion or shows a talent that should be nurtured. That needs to be a conversation which begins positively. "Wow, I’m really pleased that you’re enjoying soccer so much." It’s certainly fair for you to discuss with your son or daughter what this commitment means both for your child and for your family. Lay out what the expectations will be – for example, earning part of the expenses, attending every practice, finding a carpool among your new teammates. You can remind your child that with the intensified schedule you may not be able to attend every game or every tournament because of commitments to other family members, but that you’ll still be committed to his or her success and always interested in it. If you can have an open discussion then there will be no surprises or frustrations.
Likewise, if your expectation was that your son or daughter would play at a higher level, you need to be sure not to scare them off with over enthusiasm which could imply pressure. In fact, your child may have hesitated to ask to play on a travel team because he or she knew you wanted it. Your player may have felt that he or she couldn’t live up to the expectations. So if you jump on the request with over-the-top emotion, your player won’t hear what you say, only what you "meant." Take it slow. Calmly respond for example, "I’ve seen your improvement. This could be a really good next step for you." Again it opens the door for discussion. Don’t over praise your son’s or daughter’s abilities since that adds pressure with hidden expectations. But at the same time, give them support and reinforcement that they are moving in the right direction.
In the second scenario mentioned above, it can be difficult not to react with severe shock and disappointment when your child decides it’s time to quit soccer. It’s hard if you saw your child moving on to high school or college soccer. We want to immediately respond with the equivalent in our voices of "What are you talking about!!" Again being calm will go a long ways to opening a dialog. Sometimes you’ll find out that the reason for quitting has nothing to do with soccer, so it would be a good idea to let your child talk before you come down with your response. There may be teammate problems, a coach who tells inappropriate jokes, a parent on the sideline always picking on your child or even a health issue that is preventing your child from performing at peak. So be sure to find out what is going on. Additionally, it is okay to require that your child finish his or her commitment with the team. However, if he or she has a strong emotional reaction to that expectation, I can almost guarantee that something is amiss on the team that needs to be explored. Finally, remember that your dreams aren’t your child’s. My son Robbie is an excellent soccer player, but he is going to finish his college soccer career and then hopefully move on to medical school. I would love to watch him play professional soccer, but that’s not his choice. In fact, for a semester it wasn’t his choice to play college soccer. We have to accept those choices, as painful as they are to us. Overreacting to your child’s decision to quit, especially with anger, may get them to continue, but will overshadow their experience with resentment and sadness. Soccer should always be played with joy. In fact anything your child chooses to do should be done with joy. And in the end, we parents will share in that joy no matter what.