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How to Keep Your Kids Off the Streets and on the Fields

Your kids are registered to play soccer for the upcoming season and lets hope they are looking forward to the experience. I say that, because if you're looking forward to your son or daughter playing soccer more than they are, then there is something wrong that picture. Did your children agree to play because they were too afraid to disappoint you by saying they didn't want to play? I'm sure that is not the case with your child but be careful not to get trapped into what I like to call the parent vacuum.

As a coach for over 30 years I have seen many cases where the child improves as time goes on and the parent starts to think that their son or daughter can go far in the game. They get caught up in their child and start interfering with natural progression. They push their kids, or change teams often to find a team that will give their child a better chance to "get noticed". They enter their kids into camp after camp and occupy their time with too much soccer, baseball or hockey or any other sport. The parents are well meaning but think that if their child misses a camp or misses out playing with a top-level team or coach that they will fall behind. Parents get sucked into the belief that time is ticking and their child cannot improve unless they play or practice at every opportunity. From my experience, this is not the case at all. Sometimes, the opposite happens.

I have studied the path that superstars of most major sports take and the one thing they have in common is that they love to play the game. They are ready for a game to break out at all hours of the day. For them, a game at the park with a bunch of friends is just as important as a league, State, or National championship game. They look forward to the game just the same. And it is with this passion that players get better. Some of the best players in the world never got proper coaching till they were in their teens.

One of the best players I ever coached who was destined to play in the old NASL and was scouted to train everyday at 19 years of age with the former Toronto Blizzard did not step on the field for the first time until he was 14. I remember when I signed him on to play on my rep team. We were short players and he was keen enough to play rep soccer. In his first game I recall calling the referee for a substitution. I said, "Ken go play left wing".

He trotted on the field with a big smile and about 5 yards into his run he stopped and turned at me and said, "Coach, where is left wing?

"Oh boy", I thought, I hadn't known that he had never played any sort of organized sport before. He didn't even know where a wing position was. I called him off and explained to him the positions on a soccer field and put him on 5 minutes later.

At 14 years of age he played soccer for the very first time and was one of the best players in Canada for his age at 19 having won the Under 18 scoring championship in the old National Soccer League. I have seen players who were the best on their teams at 12 and not be good enough to make the same team at 17. Things change. They go through growth spurts, kids get involved with friends who steer them in different directions and you definitively don't want your child heading straight into trouble during those turbulent teenage years. Sport can be the glue that keeps them on the right path especially if many of the other players are dedicated, health conscious players.

As a parent, you need to see what benefits sport will provide your son or daughter from a social and psychological perspective. If they are meeting the right friends and have good supportive coaches that will provide them a positive experience then your son or daughter will enjoy the game more. This enjoyment will make them gain a passion for the game and seek to play it everyday. Not always with coaches and parents around but with friends of all ages. This non-restrictive play is a prerequisite for success. Players who have made it in pro soccer, hockey, basketball all display these traits.

If your child is being pressured too early, the game will no longer captivate them when they are going through the time of greatest personal and physical development. Those years are between 15 and 19. And even if they don't make it to the World Cup, they will have used sport to stay out of trouble, build lifelong friendships and stay off the streets.

Keeping teenagers involved in activities that interest them is a key to any trouble free society. Quite often sport loses kids too early and I believe all too often we start kids too early into organized sports. From ages 4 to 14, most kids will have collected 10 participant trophies, won at least 1 or two league championships or playoff championships and collected a wall full of team pictures and attended enough banquets that they will dread going to another one. And that's only house league kids! Rep coaches who enter lots of tournaments and stack their kids with soccer can compound the problem. By the time they are entering their teens, they will have already lost the excitement for the sport.

Signs that will tell you that your child may be looking at early retirement from the sport right when they should be most interested in staying in the game start from you. Don't push you're kids hard. Don't lecture them about their game. Make sure they are finding friends in their area and starting games away from parents, and coaches spontaneously. If they're not doing this then this is an early indication that they don't really want to get better at a sport. Make sure the coach is not taking up too much of their time with soccer. Make sure your child gets a break from the game and last but not least, if they are not begging you to go out and play then something may be wrong. If this is the case, slow right down. Wayne Gretzky would tell hockey parents to give kids the summer off from hockey. Kids will not fall behind their development process by taking time off.

Heed the signs because if you don't, you're kids will be quitting the sport by 14 and looking for other things to do. Let's hope it's not hanging out looking for trouble. I've seen it all before. Pay attention to these signs and help to keep your kids on the fields and off the streets.

Thanks for Reading

John DeBenedictis

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