Getting The Most Out Of Youth Soccer

We are a soccer family. I coach and all of our children play or played soccer. Our daughter captained her varsity team. Our twin boys play varsity, and they are also seasoned referees. Our youngest son plays for a local club team. And together, we have spent thousands of hours on and around soccer fields across the country.

When it comes to vacation, forget the ocean, we have so much fun with soccer that we only rent properties that are close to soccer fields. Weird huh? It wasn’t always like this. My wife and I didn’t even play organized sports. Twenty years ago, being a ‘soccer cult’, as my daughter calls us, was decidedly not part of the family vision. However, the benefits and the positive experiences kept piling up, including:

  • making great friends with like-minded families
  • having the kids away from the screen and running on the field
  • having undistracted teaching opportunities in the car
  • having the opportunity to demonstrate organization and leadership through coaching
  • experiencing success through teamwork
  • learning how to overcome failures and weaknesses
  • having the opportunity to relate sports to the challenges of life
  • having fun traveling, coaching, playing, and competing
  • having a great first job as a referee
  • learning about dedication and keeping commitments

We aren't the only ones that wear out tires driving to soccer events. In fact, the families we know that have had twenty plus years of healthy fun together while seemingly raising great kids, are also...dedicated soccer nuts.

If creating a family soccer cult, or perhaps something a bit short of this, sounds more fun than strange, here are some do’s and don’ts that we learned along the way:

Do make it JOB ONE to get your son or daughter to come back next season. This has to be the hardest job in youth sports, as most parents seem to be struggling with it.

Do make it all about fun. Kids only want to play if they are having fun. It’s not easy to find the fun side of inconsistent coaching, bad weather, overwhelming competition, and/or other uncontrollable things and events. However, it’s imperative that you always find a way to inject a bit of fun into each experience. It could be in the car, after practice, after a game, and/or with a new friend from the team. Always find a way to add a spoonful of fun.

Don’t share your [youth soccer related] disappointments, anxieties, criticisms, or negative thoughts in front of the kids. If you are not having fun, your child won’t either.

Don’t compare and measure. I can almost guarantee it: if you get your child to come back season after season, and year after year, your athlete will catch and/or surpass every eight-year old superstar you see on the field today.

Do praise and reward hard work. It’s fun to be recognized for working hard.

Don’t worry about A, B, and C team placements. By sixteen, the kids that participated annually are all friends, and most of them are on the same team by this age anyway.

Don’t undervalue attitude, smiles, and politeness. I have seen plenty of kids get a leg up simply based upon personality. When everyone is having fun, all this is easier.

Don’t think everyone deserves a trophy. Winning is way more fun than losing, and the kids know it. However, waffles after a loss and some praise for working hard is also fun.

Don’t coach unless you're the coach. Coaching contradictions, out-loud criticism, and endless coaching is no fun for anyone. Exchange polite emails with the coach about coaching.

Do teach work ethic and character. The funnest kids to coach are the kids that have already learned the value of hard work, teamwork, dedication, and politeness. These kids seem to succeed just by showing up.

Do consider becoming a coach. If you don’t coach your kid, someone else will. When I coach my kids, I double the fun!

Do think long-term. Every kid has a different trajectory. There are countless stories about pro athletes that did not succeed until later in life. Prepare for a long and fun journey together.

Do what most Olympic athletes do and participate in multiple sports, and/or make sure your athlete is training the opposing muscle groups that are not frequently used in soccer.

Don't try to build a lottery ticket. You can't turn your child into a pro, a D1 athlete, or a varsity superstar with extra, extra, stuff. Unless it's all done in the name of fun, the only thing you will accomplish by age burnout.

Don’t let anyone tell you that there’s too much emphasis on fun in this post. Stick to being the chauffeur and the master of fun, and you will succeed at creating your own tribe of dedicated soccer nuts :)


Bruce Warila