In my daily interactions with parents of youth soccer players, at all different levels, one main theme that I hear constantly discussed is parents wanting to give their children opportunities that they never had themselves. This is a very natural desire to have as a parent, and I, unquestionably, have that same intrinsic desire for my kids when they grow up.
Unfortunately, this desire often causes many parents to focus on the results of an opportunity as opposed to the benefits of what such an opportunity can give their children.
For instance, if a parent never had the opportunity to play organized sports in their youth, they may enroll their child in as many organized sports as possible to ensure that their child has this chance. What this parent might be missing, however, is truly understanding the reasons behind why they wished they could play organized sports, and more importantly, what it is that makes these organized sports beneficial to their children. Among these benefits is the fact that the child is getting to participate in an activity that he/she loves to do. We often find our kids enrolled in a certain sport just for the sake of it. In the long run, signing up our children for activities to a degree beyond their wishes can kill their love or desire to play the sport. Instead, what we must do as parents is ask our children what they actually want so that we can assess whether or not a particular sport or activity is providing benefits to them.
Another common problem in this pursuit to give our children opportunities we never had is that many parents focus on the results of participation rather than the benefits. Whether it be obtaining a college scholarship, the act of playing collegiate soccer, or even making the varsity high school or state select team, parents often try and give these accolades to their children rather than teaching them the necessary lessons of how to earn it. We assume that if we sign them up for expensive travel clubs, private lessons, and countless summer camps that they will automatically achieve the successes and ambitions that we, as parents, have for them (and that we might have had for ourselves as kids).
Again, if we as parents merely try to give our children the results of participation in soccer, they won’t learn how to earn it. And ultimately, the most important part of children participating in youth soccer is learning life lessons through pursuing something on their own.
Thus, as a parents, if we want our children to accomplish or take advantage of opportunities that we didn’t have, we need to begin to empower them, rather than simply gifting them.
How do we do this?
This process begins firstly, by learning what our children are interested in, and more importantly, why they are interested in it. What makes our child interested in competing and playing soccer? Why do they enjoy the sport in the first place? However our children respond to these questions needs to become the continued focus of our decisions and actions going forward.
Many children love to play soccer because of the challenges it brings. They enjoy learning and trying to figure out how to better control the ball. They enjoy learning about the ways in which they can evade defenders, and in doing so, invade the spaces behind a back line. These challenges are often what drives our children in wanting to take part in the beautiful game of soccer. Therefore, as parents, we must allow our children to experience this process and the struggle of learning and competing within the game. If we merely give them all of the answers from the sideline, even though they might win the game or tournament, they will ultimately be missing out on the opportunity to actually learn how to make the appropriate decisions and execute the necessary skills to be a successful soccer player.
The most important consideration for us as parents is understanding the lessons and skills that our children can learn through soccer, then understanding how to let them experience and struggle so that they ultimately become better.
Often, in the short term, it may seem like our children are struggling and not having success in a game or practice, but ultimately, it is their opportunity to learn, grow, and overcome challenges that gives our kids the skills to pursue the opportunities we never had.