When it comes to understanding what’s wrong and what’s right with children’s sport, a new video on “grassroots” soccer for kids really says it all. You can watch it below.
The Ontario Soccer Association produced the 5-minute video to inform parents about age-appropriate soccer programs, but the ideas presented apply equally well to good sport programming for kids in general.
For example, why should 7-year-olds play 5-a-side soccer instead of 11-a-side? Why are league standings irrelevant at the early ages? And why should kids be allowed to make mistakes? It’s all there in a 5-minute package.
The video features a great quote from Lionel Messi, the global soccer star who was voted best player in the world for a record fourth time in 2012:
“You must remember soccer is a game to have fun, and you play for that.”
As Messi reminds us, the number one reason that kids play sports is to have fun. As adults, our number one task is to prevent the fun from being sucked out of their experience, whether it’s soccer, hockey, baseball, tennis, gymnastics or any other sport.
As a soccer coach, when I talk about the importance of fun, parents often ask me:
“But shouldn’t they learn skills? How will they get better? And how will they learn to win, or overcome the disappointment of losing?”
I always tell them the same thing. Making a program fun doesn’t mean that it can’t be instructive. Good programs should be rigorous and challenging and instructive and fun all at the same time.
But learning and development takes awhile. In a well-structured program, kids learn all of the great lessons when they are ready. It just takes time.
In the case of grassroots soccer, we have to remember that this is merely the start of a much longer and wider learning process ranging from ball dribbling to coping with losing. As adults, we tend to forget the process involved.
None of us remember how long it took to learn to read and write as children, but we would all agree that we didn’t learn overnight. (And raising a child with good movement and sport skills is very similar to raising a reader.)
I like the quote in the video from soccer parent John Mantello: “For myself as a parent, that process is more important than the process of winning the five-dollar trophy at the end of the day,” he says. We need more parents like him.
Part of the process is allowing our kids to retain ownership of their game. The game is about them and not about us as coaches or parents. Our duty is merely to serve them with excellent programming and ensure that their experience is fun and instructive.
While we might understand this concept intellectually, we can easily lose sight of it during the excitement of watching our kids play their sport.
We want them to be Lionel Messi now. We want them to be Wayne Gretzky today. We want them to win the Olympic gold in competitive figure skating ice dancing this year. Even though they are only eight years old.
Parents with kids in any sport can take valuable lessons from the grassroots soccer video. First, you should look for programs that honestly and truly follow the principles of Long-Term Athlete Development (LTAD) as the Ontario LTPD Grassroots model does. At each stage, the games and activities need to be appropriate to the physical, mental, and emotional development of the children involved.
Second, check if the coaches or instructors are provided with any training or coaching resources. Even volunteer community coaches should understand basic principles of child development and coaching.
Third, let the coaches do the coaching. As a parent, your role is simply to provide positive support for your child.
The Ontario Soccer Association’s “LTPD Grassroots Video” is below. It shows how kids’ programs need to be age-appropriate and fun, and it provides an excellent resource to share with your local soccer club if they doubt the importance of these ideas.