The conversation was re-opened here at our house by a letter from a father, John Keating, a coach and former professional player, to his children, that was published in the Soccer Journal of the NSCAA. I wanted to be able to link you to it, but it's not online. We were struck by his promises to his children. He promises they'll play more pick-up games in the back yard than games on the field. He promises to keep all Sundays and holidays free (What?! Does he know about soccer here?!). He promises to preview the coach. He promises to skip some of their soccer games because the world doesn't revolve around one child. He promises never to choose to pay for soccer over family needs. He promises not to allow them to be "drafted" by other clubs or coaches, and in connection mentions the importance of modesty.
"I promise you will that you will play on a team where you will play most of the game. Again, that may be the F team. Soccer is meant to be played, not watched from the bench." (p. 62)I wish we knew him! I could go on and on. John Keating has a sound, down to earth, view of soccer, and I suspect his ideas extend to other sports as well. So if your daughter plays softball, this post is for you too and you're not off the hook. Neither are we. We read it aloud to our children in the full, humble realization that we don't keep the kind of ideals Keating has written out.
Now, what does this have to do with American youth soccer at large? America has never won a World Cup. America can't even produce very many players who can compete on the world stage. Truthfully, there is no consensus on this issue. No one knows the final answer.
One idea The Coach sees over and over again is that American children don't have enough time for free play, their time and practices are over-structured. Brazil and Argentina, the soccer power-houses, create amazing numbers of extremely talented players. In the early years, maybe ten and under, they have no organized teams. The kids are outside, playing; and when they're playing, they're playing soccer. They're learning creativity and problem solving without an adult coach. (Short break for a soccer lecture after which The Coach volunteers to bring home more articles so that I could write multiple posts on the subject.)
Two hundred billion kids won't ever play in a World Cup. Free play for those children means, not that they'll be better soccer players, but they'll enjoy the Beautiful Game a little bit more. A sunny afternoon in the backyard with a ball might be more profitable to them than running from school to two separate sport practices, then eating fast food for dinner and falling asleep in the car on the way home. A season on the F team or even (gasp) Rec Soccer, might be a lot more fun. Your kids, and my kids, won't play in the World Cup, or the World Series or the Super Bowl; most kids don't. In fact, most athletes are not even awarded substantial athletic scholarships; don't make soccer your college savings plan. Before we structure our entire lifestyle around an unlikely future, we should step back and make a few promises to help us remember the truly important things in life.