She’s always where the ball is. She’s aggressive. Nothing gets past her. Other players defer to her on the field. She scores 4 goals single-handedly. You cheer. You smile. She’s only six years old, but you are sure she’s headed for stardom. Should you be?
Diane Drake, head coach of the George Mason women’s soccer team, says “you can tell if a kid is athletic by their body type – if they tend to be muscular and athletic, with agility, balance, coordination at an early age of 6 or 7.” But, she advises, “You can’t really tell how they will develop until around age 13.” Passion, skill development, coachability have yet to be uncovered.
If they are physically gifted and show a desire to play competitively, encourage them to challenge themselves. Try out for the local travel team. “Cross-over” programs which give young kids a taste of the competitive game at 8 or 9 years old are becoming popular. See if they’re interested, then watch them grow into the game. If they are hungry to play and to learn more about playing, follow their lead. Investigate the opportunities available through travel clubs and your state youth soccer organizations or US Youth Soccer.
But keep checking with your kid to be sure it is his or her decision whether to keep playing. Quitting mid-season is poor form, but at the end of each season, re-assess. Be sure to let them know it’s okay to keep playing, switch to a team that is a better fit or switch to a different sport or new activity. Letting them know means it has to be okay with you, the parent. All options have to be on the table.
Warning: Kids have radar and want to please. If they think you want them to stay on the travel team even though they sit on the bench and never play, they will tell you they want to stay. Keep yourself open to what they want, and beware of your body language that tells them what you want to hear.
Next post: Part II – Parenting as Advocate and Not Agent in Youth Sports