I have 3 children who participate in club soccer. Our experience is that the level of participation required is really more than we desire, yet there are no alternatives in our community. We struggle to find a balance, being committed players/parents while not letting soccer totally rule our lives.
For instance, when you enroll in soccer, you are required to sign a document that states that you understand that they play both fall and spring seasons and you are committing to play both. There are 2 practices and at least one game per week. Once your child is on the team, you are informed that they also play several sessions of winter indoor soccer so they can "stay in shape and keep up with their skills." Often a coach will suggest that the team play in a tournament, which take place over a holiday weekend: Memorial Day, Independence Day, Labor Day. They insist that "the kids will have a great time." Tournaments involve multiple games over the 3 day weekend. Will they have a better time than they would have socializing with friends and family, attending parades and bbqs, going on family outings, and relaxing?
The year round schedules make it almost impossible to play more than one sport. It also makes it impossible for my husband to coach. He could commit to a 2-3 month season, but his work schedule would not allow him to leave early 2 days a week year round, and his travel schedule would mean missing many games. He does often volunteer to substitute coach when one of our kids' coaches can't be there.
As if playing year round weren't enough, kids are encouraged to attend sports camps in the summer, to work on their skills!
Living in a town too small to sport an entire league, out teams participate in regional leagues. This means that away games will take place in towns a 30-45 minute drive away. Players are supposed to be there 30 minutes before the start of the game. If a family has more than one child playing, soccer games can really dominate a weekend with the total amount of time involved.
Soccer is expensive to play, yet all the teams hire trainers to work with the kids, which almost doubles the cost of the season.
Our daughter played on a team for several years where the coach, who lived out in the country and had built a soccer field on his property, held practices at his home, which was about a 25 minute drive from our home. His reason for doing this, rather than practicing at the centrally located schools where the rest of the teams practice, was because "all the comings and goings at the school are too distracting for the girls." They were 8-9 years old at the time and this struck me as silly.
Her current team has been "noticed" by the league director who wants them to do more intensive training this winter because they "have potential" and "they could really go places." Go where, exactly? They may play more competitive teams, but they are certainly not pros in the making, and will the extra effort to play in a more competitive league be worth it, if they are having fun now as they are?
I realize that we have a choice whether or not to participate in club soccer, however, it is not that simple. Many of the other sports; hockey, baseball, swimming, football; are conducted the same way. It can be difficult to play for the school if you don't have any experience. Some school districts in our area are going so far as to not allow kids with no experience to try out.
I personally believe that this level of intensity reflects parental agendas rather than children's desires. What happened to sports that were played during only one season, with time off for down time or other sports? What happened to playing for fun, which didn't require a trainer? Back when I was a kid, most organized sports didn't even begin until middle school, and then you played on the school team. Now private sport leagues begin as young as kindergarten. It seems our culture has embraced Extreme Youth Sports to go along with Extreme Everything Else.
The result of all this for my family is that we sometimes feel burned out by the relentless demands of soccer. My children also take music lessons and attend religious education. Juggling all these activities makes us sometimes late. On a rare occasion, if a child seems particularly overwhelmed, we have allowed him or her miss a game or a practice. As a family, we also set priorities, and important family celebrations take priority over soccer games. Sometimes events are planned well before the soccer schedule is announced, but we do our best to notify the coach of conflicts as soon as we are aware of them. We have voted against tournament partcipation and inwardly cheered when a child's team has been eliminated early in a tournament. The zealous coaches and team managers have sometimes thought less of us or questioned our level of commitment for these reasons, but we believe part of our job as parents is to teach our children to find a balance in life. While we feel sports are very important, given the choice, we would participate at a less intense level.
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