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The Real Meaning of "No Pain, No Gain"

The phrase “no pain, no gain” has been widely popular in sports for a long time. People tend to put this statement on t-shirts, posters, and live by it as a badge of honor.

Usually when people use this phrase, they are referring to working hard physically. People believe that you can’t get stronger and grow without going through the pain – both physical and mental – of working physically hard. Many people believe that athletes are developed and achieve success through this process: experiencing physical pains and earning subsequent gains.

However, as much as this phrase is true regarding physical pain, it is even more true than most of us realize in other ways. “No pain, no gain” applies to all aspects of development, not just physical development. In order for us – and especially in order for kids – to gain or grow as people, we need to go through a little bit of emotional, mental, and social pain.

In fact, the emotional and mental pain – or “suffering” – that we endure can help us grow even more than physical pain. This applies directly to youth soccer and the experiences we provide for kids. Below are some examples:

Example 1: Losing a game

Everyone hates to lose. However, losing games is crucial to player and child development, as learning how to cope with losing soccer games helps younger players learn how to cope and recover from failures. Throughout life, we all experience various degrees of failure. If children don’t learn how to handle them and recover from them, they won’t find success or happiness as adults.

Example 2: Confrontational Conversations

No one likes having difficult or uncomfortable conversations. However, making our young players initiate and/or manage uncomfortable conversations is another pain that can help young players grow as people. Whether two teammates are upset with one another, or a player is unhappy with the decision of a coach, a direct conversation is usually the best way to handle the situation, yet it is almost always the most uncomfortable way. The pain of experiencing these difficult conversations will go a long way in helping young people learn how to handle the inevitable difficult conversations they will face in adulthood. If we don’t force our children to “suffer” through such experiences, they may never learn how to handle conflict.

Example 3: Forgetting Equipment

Collecting, bringing, and carrying equipment to the field should be the responsibility of the player (even 3-year olds can learn this task to some degree). Putting our children in charge of their own equipment will force them to learn responsibility. Inevitably, there will be times when a young player forgets his or her shin guards, cleats, ball etc. Instead of parents going back home to pick up forgotten equipment or simply handling the task for the child to begin with, allowing the player to “suffer” through the pain of not being able to participate in a practice or game will teach a valuable lesson. Though the child will experience the short-term pain of sitting out, the natural consequence will teach an unforgettable and powerful lesson about being responsible for oneself.

What This Means for Parents and Coaches

As parents and coaches in youth soccer, we must embrace certain degrees of emotional or social “pain” to allow our children to grow and gain valuable life skills. We need to avoid doing too many things for, sheltering, or preventing our children and players from experiencing pain, for these moments of pain are what will ultimately help them grow.


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