Leave Competition Out of Early Youth Sports

(Guest post from Robin Tilley, Franchise Support Coordinator, Soccer Shots Franchising)

There are so many aspects of the Soccer Shots model that are worth promoting, and each day I become more and more proud to be a part of something so genuinely good for our youth. Most of the benefits are clear: physically, we promote exercise, coordination, agility and balance, among other abilities. Mentally, we focus on character-building concepts such as teamwork, appreciation and honesty. These items alone set us apart from our competition.

SS GirlBoy Leave Competition Out of Early Youth Sports

But there’s one piece of our program that may sometimes get lost among the other more superficial advantages – the fact that Soccer Shots is non-competitive. I realize this could have been a selling point for parents who believe it’s the best option for their kids, beginners with no experience in sports, and we stress that this is why we’re different than a typical soccer league. But it’s something to keep in mind as kids move through the Mini and Classic programs and into our Premier programs, when children already have experience with the game.

In my opinion, and from what I’ve seen growing up in various organized sports, many parents push their kids too hard. Some pressure their kids into trying out for the best teams, practicing on their own after scheduled sessions, and giving them a hard time if they’re not excelling above the other kids. I’ve seen so many of my friends and former teammates “burn out” and quit at a young age because of the pressure. Luckily, I wasn’t one of those kids. I recently ran my first full marathon, and it got me thinking about what got me motivated enough to do this – and how my background in sports contributed to this.

Compared to some of my close friends, I got a “late” start in soccer, only playing in a basic recreational league until sometime in middle school, before eventually trying out for travel and elite teams. Most of my friends were playing on these advanced teams since elementary school, three or four years before me. My parents, neither of whom were very involved in sports growing up, didn’t even think to pressure me into these teams and didn’t even know much about them. I eventually decided on my own that I wanted more of a challenge, so I asked my parents to try out for the elite team and ended up fitting right in. Even by that point – in 7th or 8th grade – some of my teammates were beginning to resent the sport they had been pressured into playing. Some felt inferior if they didn’t think they were playing up to their parents’ or coach’s expectations.

I slowly excelled and played for higher-level teams, but all at my own pace. When it came time to try out for the JV and varsity teams in high school – at my AAAA high school, known for having consistently competitive teams in the state of Pennsylvania – I essentially skipped over two entire teams – I played for the 8th grade team in 8th grade, and skipped over the 9th grade and JV teams, becoming the only freshman on my varsity team in 9th grade (I also played for JV that year, too). I got some ink in local newspapers and played in the state championship that year (is it OK to toot my own horn if I’m making a point?!). I certainly “peaked” later than many of my teammates and friends, but I’m glad it worked out that way. I never burnt out from the sport I loved and no one pressured me into doing something I didn’t want to. I made my own decisions as I felt ready and driven to do so. And although my collegiate “career” was limited to a short period on Penn State’s club team (which turned out to be too much of a commitment – I was more interested in getting involved with other organizations and jobs), I still play in various local leagues today.

Soccer is only one part of the equation. I’ve always had a passion for running, and I’ve always done it on my own terms – outside of soccer practice and a brief stint in middle school cross country. I’ve always been motivated on my own to run by myself, with very few exceptions. I am 100% certain that I never would have run a marathon if I’d had outside pressure to run at a certain level before this point.

Kids will motivate themselves. They’ll become competitive in a sport or activity if it’s what they’re truly passionate about. I also played softball and swam competitively as a kid, but neither sport was fun enough to me to stick – and that’s OK. I love that at Soccer Shots, we don’t push competition; we simply push fun. And, let’s be honest – a child won’t ever be passionate about something unless they associate it with fun, right?

I vividly remember growing up and hearing certain parents yell at their kids from the sidelines of the soccer field, and even arguing with coaches about their child’s playing time. I’m so grateful that my parents never put that pressure on me, and I’m so proud that Soccer Shots is helping to lay the foundation for a healthier youth sports world filled with happy, confident athletes.