For some children, playing with their friends on an organized soccer team is a big deal. According to them, it is one of the primary reasons they do it. But is it good for them?
First, let’s discuss why this is so important to kids:
1. It’s fun for them. They like their friends; therefore, spending more time with them outside school is fun, and they want to have fun at soccer.
2. It is comfortable for them. It’s always hard not knowing anyone else in a group of people. By having at least one friend, kids feel more comfortable.
Neither of these two reasons are evidence that playing with friends is good for children. It’s clearly preferable for them, but not necessarily best for them.
Is simply playing the game not fun? If not, here are two things to consider:
1. Perhaps something needs to change with the coaching. Maybe coach just doesn’t make practices fun. Therefore, kids associate the game with not being fun. One major sign of this is when kids dislike going to practice, but love game day. If a coach is doing his/her job correctly, kids should love practice just as much, if not more, than matches. If practice is not fun, kids have only one thing to look forward to at practice: their friends. If practices were designed and executed more effectively, kids would not need their friends to have fun.
2. Perhaps the child should not be playing in the first place. I have coached several kids who, if their friends were not on the team, would quit in a heartbeat. Usually, these kids would rather not play any sports at all. If they are not interested, they should not be forced to do it. The reality is that these kids are not choosing to play because their friends do. Rather, their friends are the only thing helping them hang on one moment longer before they inevitably quit playing altogether. Often times, these kids play because the parents want their child to “get some exercise” or “burn some energy” or “be competitive” or simply live out a dream that they did not. Parents need to recognize whether or not the child is interested in playing. If not, determine why, and if he is simply not into the sport, stop forcing him to play.
Being comfortable with friends is a nice way of saying it. I prefer to call it “easy.” It’s easier to handle being in a group of people when you already know someone. Isn’t a big part of youth sports learning life lessons? This is a huge one that is an easy one to learn.
Most of us have probably been to a party or a networking event in which we did not know anyone else. We feel uncomfortable and awkwardly stand off to the side in solitude. We would like to be speaking to people, but we don’t know anyone. Perhaps, when we were children, if we learned how to integrate ourselves into a group without knowing anyone beforehand, we would be able to do the same thing at these events.
By a child playing on a team away from friends, she learns to be comfortable not knowing anyone in a group, and she learns how to manage the situation. Furthermore, she learns how to meet new people and make new friends. What a great life lesson!
Finally, here is why playing without friends on the team is beneficial:
1. Learning how to make new friends and being comfortable not knowing anyone – we covered that.
2. Behavior: With school friends, kids are very silly and are non-stop goofing around with each other. By not being in that environment, children are more likely to focus and act more mature at soccer.
3. Having a separate life from school is good. It’s like living with a roommate. Even if you love your roommate, sometimes you just need time to yourself or time away from the other person. Therefore, it’s great to have outside interests or groups of people to be with other than your roommate to keep you from driving each other crazy. Same goes for kids. By school and soccer friends being the same, it’s just one endless string of the same shenanigans. Separating the two allows your child more friends and acquaintances – knowing more people is always a good thing (you never know when connections will come in handy). It also presents the opportunity for new experiences and opportunities – variety is the spice of life, no? Lastly, in case there is ever any drama at school, it does not leak over into soccer – which allows children to get away from it.
4. For those kids who have a dream of playing the sport at a high level and/or long-term, playing away from their friends gives them freedom to flourish. Sometimes friends can hold us back. When kids are around friends, they have a tendency to act silly and fall into certain habits and routines. If a child wants to go far in the game he must constantly be pushing and striving beyond his usual self.
P.S. For parents: in case that whole carpool thing has you hesitant – maybe it’s also good for us to get to know some new people and coordinate rides with new teammates. :)