Competitive youth soccer leagues – also known as club teams or travel teams — are often the ideal fit for advanced players as young as 8 years old. How do you know if your child is ready to move from a recreational or academy program to higher level of play? These seven tips will help guide you and your child to the right choice.
Keep in mind that playing on a select soccer team requires a commitment not only from a player, but also from the player’s family. During the spring and fall seasons, players will be responsible for attending multiple practices, along with games.
And summer and winter are both tournament seasons. This schedule means that parents must also dedicate their time to their child’s soccer career. This time can be extremely rewarding for both of you! If you need a realistic idea of what to expect, reach out to parents whose kids already play select soccer. They’ll probably share plenty of tips on helping your child balance soccer with school and other extracurricular activities.
What’s the most important trait of any great soccer player? A deep love of the game. A child who shows interest in soccer outside of regular practices and games, watching soccer games and following professional players, is a great candidate for select soccer.
If your child dribbles a soccer ball wherever she goes or spends free time doing soccer drills in the yard, she may be eager for the additional challenge of a competitive soccer team. If you’re not sure about your child’s interest level, talk to your child to gauge her attitude. Ask what she enjoys about her current team, and whether she feels challenged and engaged during practices and games.
Joining a select soccer team generally requires participating in a try-out. Discuss how you’ll handle the result if your child does not make the team, and listen carefully to how your child reacts. Does she say things like, “If I don’t make the team, I’ll just quit”? If so, it may be better to remain on a recreational team. Conversely, if your child says, “Even if I don’t make this team, I’ll find another one,” she probably will cope well with the potential disappointment of not making the team.
It’s also important to think about how your child will respond if she receives constructive criticism from a coach or doesn’t get equal playing time. If feedback from a coach or the prospect of more game time will spur your child to work harder, she will likely thrive on a select soccer team.
It’s common for kids to want to do what their friends are doing, and your child has probably made lots of friends through her recreational team. Perhaps she and a friend are planning to try out for a select team together. Remind your child that the try-out process is individual; it’s possible that she or her friend might not make the team.
Confirm that she’ll still be enthusiastic about joining the team alone, and emphasize that it’s an opportunity to make even more new friends who share her interest in soccer. For younger players, this conversation is an excellent opportunity to practice what to say if a friend doesn’t make the team–those lessons in sportsmanship will become more important as players get older.
Your child will spend significant time working with (and competing against) her teammates, and that time should offer your child a healthy challenge: interacting with stronger players will help your child improve her own skills, but you also want to avoid placing your child in a situation where she cannot keep up with her teammates.
If your child falls toward the middle of the pack on her recreational team and seems content there, she’s probably found a great fit. Conversely, if your child is already a star on a recreational team, then moving to a select soccer team can provide the healthy kinds of challenges that help kids blossom into accomplished, enthusiastic players.
The number of choices in soccer programs can be overwhelming, especially if you don’t have a background in soccer. Your child’s coach is an excellent resource in your decision-making process. Have a question about how kids are generally assigned to select soccer teams? Or wonder whether your coach thinks your child “has what it takes” for competitive soccer? Just ask!
Be sure to speak with the coach of your child’s prospective new team. Learn more about the coach’s philosophy and communication style. Coaches who emphasize creativity and strive to foster a love of soccer will provide the best guidance for any soccer player, and they’ll help competitive players maintain their passion all the way through U19.
Ultimately the best approach to deciding whether your child is ready for competitive soccer is to focus on your child’s definition of “success.” Perhaps your child aspires to be the next Lionel Messi, or maybe she’s more interested in having a great time on the soccer field with her friends.
Push your own aspirations aside and support your child in pursuing her goals, however modest or extraordinary. Allowing your child to guide the conversation and decision-making process will ensure that your child maintains a love for soccer regardless of whether she moves on to another sport or goes on to pursue a college or professional soccer career.
For more information on parenting soccer players, check out “How to Be the Perfect Soccer Parent.” This downloadable guide includes a wide variety of tips and insights, from the ABS’s of soccer to a primer in sports psychology.
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