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7 Things Parents Get All Wrong About Youth Sports (And Their Kids Get All Right)

As parents, many of us worry. We worry a lot. We care so much about our kids and ensuring their safety and happiness that we are constantly concerned about them. In every move they make, we are concerned about how it will affect them. When they start walking toward a pool, we get scared they will fall in. When they eat dirt, we worry they will get sick. When they move to a new school, we get worried they won’t make friends. When they decide to perform in the talent show and their act is hardly worth being called a “talent” we worry about them being embarrassed.

This is totally understandable and a testament to our love for our children. However, many of us start to think of all the possible consequences or possibilities, which makes us worry before anything actually happens. In fact, we often step in and prevent any chance of something “bad” happening in order to protect our children, rather than letting them gain new experiences. When we do this, we are thinking about how these situations would make us feel if we were in our children’s shoes.


M I K E M O R R I S

The reality is, however, our kids are not nearly as worried about things as we are. Sure, this might have something to do with their naiveté. But more accurately, this has everything to do with the fact that our children do not think like we do. Kids are not simply smaller adults. They are an entirely different breed of human. Their brains do not function as ours do. They do not understand the world in the same way.

Therefore, whenever there is a situation in our children’s lives, we cannot begin to worry because of how it makes us feel or would make us feel if we were our children. Because our kids think differently, their perspectives are completely different, and they usually have different feelings than us. Things that are important, worrisome, or a big deal to us are often not very important, worrisome, or a big deal to our children.

Here are 7 things that we often worry about in youth soccer that our children usually do not:

Getting Hurt
This is kind of a 2-part situation. First, our kids are not worried about getting hurt. They will — without fear — dive into the goal posts or run straight at someone who is about to kick the ball really hard at them. Secondly, when they do fall down, take a ball to the face, or run into a post, they are almost never as hurt as we worry they might be. Often times, collisions and physical situations in sports are not nearly as hurtful as they appear to the observer — especially in youth soccer.

Things that are important, worrisome, or a big deal to us are often not very important, worrisome, or a big deal to our children.

Most of the time, a child will be able to get back up and keep playing with no problem. Other times, they might be a little scared, but all they need is to take a minute to calm down and catch their breath before returning to play. But we often don’t realize this. As adults (especially as parents), we get so worried for them (because we love and care about them) that we run over immediately and start to ask if everything is okay and make our worries completely apparent.

Because we are so obviously worried, our children begin to think something might be wrong and worth worrying about, so they will exaggerate the pain or begin to cry. Instead, we should take a moment to judge their immediate reaction, then if necessary, calmly approach them, calmly speak to them (even if it really is bad) and help them take deep breaths to calm down. It also often helps to make a joke or use humor.

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Messing Up
We all want to see our children succeed. As adults, we often anticipate a moment in which our children might make a mistake or see them doing something “incorrectly” while playing. Often times, we respond by telling or reminding them what to do to prevent them from making a mistake. First of all, this does not allow them to learn. They need to make their own choices and learn from experience to become better players. But more importantly, our kids are not especially worried about making mistakes.

If children make a mistake, they respond by trying their best to make up for it. That’s what they are worried about — competing, having fun, and trying hard. It’s when adults point out the mistakes — by simultaneously sighing “Awww!” or putting our hands over our faces — that children begin to feel bad about messing up. All kids really want is approval and support from the adults in their lives. If, as parents, we simply reinforce to our children that we love watching them play and notice them doing their best, they will continue to keep trying and recovering from mistakes without worry of making them.

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Playing Goalkeeper
This point goes hand-in-hand with the previous one, but since it’s a unique situation, I find it worthy of being its own category. When many parents see their child going in as the goalkeeper, they see it as their child going in to be the single person responsible for keeping the ball out of the net and the recipient of ridicule of they fail at doing so. They also see it as their child going in to play the only position that is exceptionally different from the rest and that they have not routinely practiced it. Seeing it from this perspective makes us worry tremendously for them. Aside from serious injuries, I have never seen something regularly worry parents to a degree that makes them sweat and panic beyond anything they regularly experience.

In reality, children are often excited to play goalkeeper! They volunteer for it. It’s exciting to be the only person who gets to use hands. And even if a child did not volunteer — it’s just their turn in the rotation — they have usually mentally prepared and are ready. The adults need not create any panic by expressing nervousness (see point number one above). And in the case that our child does let in a bunch of goals, it’s not their fault. The entire team is responsible for keeping the ball away from the net, and any good coach will make that clear to the players.

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Trophies
There’s an ongoing debate in youth sports about whether or not youth players should receive participation trophies. This debate should never even come up in the first place. The truth is: kids don’t care about trophies. Period.

Do kids get excited about trophies? They sure do. But what if they never even knew there was a possibility of receiving them? What if they simply showed up, played, then went home? Would kids be disappointed that they did not receive trophies or medals? Nope.

If adults never even bring up the topic of trophies or medals, the kids won’t even think about it. They don’t care about them. They care about competing. Their satisfaction comes from doing their best and enjoying the experience. If they did actually win a competition, the satisfaction of knowing they performed the best is enough. As adults, we enjoy seeing our children get medals and trophies, then taking pictures of them holding the awards. But in reality, if we just avoided the entire thing from the beginning, our kids would be just as happy about playing as they are about receiving awards. Save the money that it costs to buy trophies and let kids enjoy the game for what it is.

Flickr (Terren in Virginia)

Winning
Kids do not care about winning. They care about competing. Do they keep score? Of course. But once the game is over, they forget all about it and move on to the next thing in their lives. They do not stress about all the things they could have done differently to win. They do not lose sleep over falling down two places in the league standings. Kids move on, then get excited for the next chance to compete. As adults, we need to stop worrying about the score, and concern ourselves with the things that last longer — the skills, ideas, and lessons they learn from playing, regardless of the score.

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Playing With Friends
In a previous post, I wrote about the benefits of children not playing with friends. Regardless of whether or not it is a good or bad thing, the truth is that most kids don’t really care about playing with their friends. They do care about enjoying and liking their teammates, but they do not care whether or not they knew them before joining the team. Kids are great at making new friends. And the environment of a soccer team does a great job of helping them do so. So even if a child is initially disappointed that they will not get to play with a particular school friend, they will quickly get over it when they meets their new, equally-fun teammates.

Flickr (woodleywonderworks)

Changes To The Team Or Coach
Whenever there is a coaching change, or our child is moved to a new team, we get very concerned about it. Our kids might also be concerned about it. However, as pointed out previously, children are very good at adapting to changes. They will make new friends on their new team, and they will learn to love their new coach as they did their previous one. As adults, we often worry about how these changes will affect our children. Our kids pick up on it and become increasingly nervous themselves. However, if we stay calm and look at everything as an opportunity, so will our kids.

Even if the change is our child being moved to the “B” team or “Second” team, they do not care nearly as much as we do. We see it as a sense of status and think people will judge our children for it. But our kids just see it as another team with more fun kids to meet and a chance to keep learning and playing. Before we get too concerned about a change of team or coach, we must realize that our children are much more capable of adapting than we are, and that they are likely not nearly concerned (if at all) as we are.

Flickr (woodleywonderworks)

Moving Forward
Whenever we find ourselves becoming worried or concerned about a situation with our children’s youth soccer experience, we must do 3 things:

1. Stay calm: Our worries will transfer to our kids and create unnecessary stress for them.
2. Wait and see: Instead of predicting all the bad things that might happen and trying to prevent them, wait and see how our children react – they might surprise us.
3. Ask questions: We know how situations make us feel. But since our brains work differently than our children’s, we have no idea their perspective. Ask them what they think and how they feel before taking action — we can learn a lot from them by doing that.

Zac Ludwig is the founder of Switching The Field, a community of passionate soccer fanatics and people new to the game driven to make a better, more positive impact on the game. Read more from Switching The Field here: