Why am I doing this anyway?

It’s a fair question to ask of all the things we choose to do. And certainly, in our busy lives, a valid check regarding time and resource management in our soccer-filled lives. Of all the things we can choose to do, why play soccer? It is worth it?

If my suggestion just gave your heart an uncomfortable tug, maybe a heart to heart is in order. Because, after all, you’ve got a lot invested. Sure, it used to be all fun and games and oranges at half time when they began playing, but then they made the travel team. All of a sudden, things got serious. Club dues, home and away kits, constant practices, further to games. Then, with tournaments, coaching costs, additional tryouts, air travel and hotel accommodations … well, you’d rather not think about it, let alone talk about it. But we need to. Because there’s some soul-sapping going on out there.

Deep down what do we really want for our kids? To be happy, healthy and productive, right? So, can youth sports help with that? I think yes, when the kids come home from practice excited, raring to go to the game this weekend and – the kicker – inspired to practice on their own. But if that’s not happening, do we ask: is it all worth it?

Well, what makes a thing worth doing?

Adults focus on winning, achievement and recognition, but young people don’t start there. They’re looking for a purpose and a positive experience. They generally dig deep and stick with it as long as:

  1. They’re learning.
  2. They keep improving.
  3. They feel their contribution matters.
  4. It’s their choice to do it.

Some kids – the ones who’ll tell you they were “born to play soccer” – just revel in the whole experience. They love the coach, the team, the game. They ask questions. They wear their jersey to school (be careful about identity-submerging here). It’s clear, they’re thriving. Their cup is full to the brim.

But something often happens, especially to the really talented kids, when…

  • Having fun gives way to … I need to be a starter.
  • Starting is overshadowed by …. I want to make the all-star team.
  • All stars leads to travel, leads to try outs for the “better” team.
  • Better leads to ODP, state, regional, maybe even national team pool!
  • Club lets you be “seen” by college scouts. Maybe that will land a scholarship.
  • Then there’s the professional league … Could I actually get paid to play soccer?

Over and over, I’ve seen it. These kids who started out playing just to have fun with their friends find themselves stuck on the up-escalator. And on their way up, the selectivity, the expectations, the demands and, of course the cost, just keep on climbing. When do we interrupt their progress to ask whether it’s all still worth doing?

We have to ask. Regularly. When the kids can be completely honest about whether they really still love this game at its current intensity. Or would they be happier (and healthier) just playing with their friends. Or on a lower-pressure team. Or perhaps trying another activity that looks like fun.

Sure, they may want to quit — and I’m not recommending we let them, at least not mid-season – but it has to an be option on the table. Even if they do ask off the team, they may enjoy giving back to the sport by refereeing or volunteering with Top Soccer or as an assistant coach for younger players. Happy, healthy, productive. That’s the goal, right?

Why am I doing this? Such a simple check-in — every semester or every season.

On the other hand, they may surprise you by wanting to stick with the team, even if they aren’t the star or getting a lot of playing time. If the experience is still positive and they are learning, improving, and contributing, then it may be still worth it to them. And the “them” in this decision is everything. That way, whatever fills them up is what will carry them into whatever they choose to do next. And they’ll be better off for having had the experience.

Because we want our kids to be happy, healthy, and productive we need to help them ask and honestly answer the big question: Why am I doing this? Hopefully, by hard work, trial and error, taking risks and making lots of mistakes, they’ll find the thing for which they can honestly say, “Now THIS is what I was really meant for.”

Cup full. No leaks.

Next Article: ‘Balancing Soccer and Life – Using the Five Pillars of Wellness to Power Healthy Athletes’ (Coming Soon)