I have a seven year old who has been playing soccer for the last two years. He’s no David Beckham, but I felt it was important for him to get involved in team sports. He enjoys it and goes to bed at a decent hour with no complaints on game days. It’s a win-win situation. Youth sports aren’t just a great physical activity, but they also teach social skills people can implore later on in life.
1. You play how you practice. Have you ever seen a player make a mistake and retort with, “He/she always does that!”? That’s because understanding and execution are two different things. Most people, especially children, learn through repetition. It’s not good enough to tell a soccer player to use the side of the foot instead of the toe. In order to kick properly, this skill needs to be perfected during practice before one can expect the player to do well on the field. Life is no different. Think of a student in school. The purpose of homework and quizzes isn’t to bog down or bore the pupil. Those things are intended to reinforce the lesson in preparation for the test.
2. Play your position. A professional soccer team has 11 players on the field at a time, but at age 7 there are only 4 players. (The field is also much smaller.) Their assigned positions are left offense, left defense, right offense, and right defense. Simple, or so it should be; but things don’t run as smoothly when someone isn’t located in their assigned position. (God forbid all 4 are out of order.) Frequently, I saw my son as an offensive player located behind his defensive players. I yelled, “Play up! He can’t pass to you from there.” Too many times we’re like kids: all running after one ball and ignoring the space we’re supposed to occupy. Everyone can’t be a great athlete or a great singer or a great actor. Does the world really need 7 billion Samuel L. Jackson’s? Resist the rat race and stay in your lane.
3. Focus. At age 5, there was a game where my son did a Michael Jackson impersonation in the middle of a game. “Pay attention,” I yelled. How the melody of Billy Jean overtook him at that moment is beyond me, but we have to be mindful of the task at hand. At some point (I hope) we work towards a goal, yet we seem to be surrounded by chaos and distractions. We can’t let the things going on around us divert our attention on what’s really important.
4. Remember who’s on your team. Sometimes the boys chase after the soccer ball all at once. Everyone on both teams is standing so close together looking down at the ball. They can lose sight of the fact that they are actually taking the ball from a teammate. What happens if one person finally manages to get the ball? Well now, everyone is out of position, so he definitely can’t pass it to someone else. Does the player have the skill to kick it to the goal while the four players from the opposing team chase him? Not likely. You can’t expect to win once you’ve isolated yourself from both your enemies and your friends.
5. Display good sportsmanship. A season or two ago I remember a game where my son’s team demolished their opponent. The score was somewhere around 15-2. Each time we scored a young boy would yell out the current score with his arms raised in excitement. By the time we reached our fifth goal my son thought he might cheer with him as well, but I intervened and told him to stop. There’s no harm in taking pleasure in winning, but at whose expense? What may be cheering to you may actually be taunting to someone else. An exaggerated praise of self is never attractive.