My Toddler's First Soccer Experience
This fall, my daughter joined a soccer league. She’s 3, so there were no games or teams, just a weekly practice that ended with a short scrimmage of bumblebee soccer.
We started off great. Her Godbrother was in the same practices, and she got to run around with him, work on her dribbling, and kick the balls haphazardly. Around week three, they separated the kids onto two separate fields, with different coaches, and she was separated from her Godbrother. At that end of that same practice, an older kid (that wasn’t even part of the practice!) managed to make his way into the scrimmage and promptly took the ball away from her and ran off into the distance to score an easy goal.
She shut down after that. She immediately stopped playing in that scrimmage, and for every week after, we had to bargain with her to even show up to practice. Although she would eventually relent and participate in practice, she often wouldn’t run. She wasn’t smiling and having fun like she was previously. She was bummed, looking down at her ball and gently pushing it along.
We would check-in with her every water break. Pepper her with “Are you having fun??” “You’re doing great!” and she would nod and grant us a half-smile before walking back on the field. I felt guilty. Like I was forcing her to do something she didn’t want to. But I also felt this urge to try and use this as a learning opportunity, to try and show her that she made a commitment to something, and she should see it through. She should just suck it up and do her best.
We would check-in with her every water break. Pepper her with “Are you having fun??” “You’re doing great!” and she would nod and grant us a half-smile before walking back on the field. I felt guilty.
I’d like to insert some context here. I played soccer for nearly a decade. I started when I was around nine years old, and I stopped right before 18. All through my junior high and high school years, I was part of a club soccer team that played year-round. We traveled to Hawaii for tournaments, and often participated in playoff-like games in places like Diamond Bar, Calif., condensing 3 or 4 games into one weekend.
I loved it. I loved being with my soccer friends at practice. I loved competing with bigger and stronger girls and taking the ball away from them. Running faster than them. I even loved the soreness that followed an intense battle on the field. I really loved it. Until I didn’t.
My family’s expectation of my soccer career started to reveal itself to me, and the pressure of possibly getting recruited for college, of being at the best soccer camps with the best players, of my personal record of goals scored or stopped started to sour my experience. When I graduated high school I decided that I was quitting. I didn’t want to play anymore.
My mom was less than thrilled. After all, she had poured in years of her life driving me to and fro for all of my tournaments. Not to mention the huge amounts of cash to keep me on the club team, buying me jerseys and cleats, paying for training. But I was done. At the time, I felt like the outside pressures had ruined a personal joy of mine.
So when my daughter confessed to me on a car ride home one day that she didn’t want to go back to soccer, I had a flash of clarity. Stop pushing her. She doesn’t want to do this anymore, and what would she gain if I pressured her to play? She’s not old enough to learn about making commitments, because this isn’t a commitment she made! I just signed her up and told her she was going. It’s not like she chose this sport.
As her parents, we love to introduce her to as many new things as possible, in the hopes that she will naturally find things that she loves. We shouldn’t protest every time she’s honest about what she doesn’t love. We should respect that and move on to the next idea.
So she stopped. She left soccer behind and next up is gymnastics. Or basketball. I think she may also want to give ice skating a try. From this experience, I hope that she’s learned that it’s fun to try new things, and as long as you stay true to yourself, you’ll have no regrets.
And one day, when she’s old-enough to make independent commitments and participate in activities she enjoys, I look forward to helping her understand the value in seeing things through to the end. And once the end is reached, the value in reflecting on your experience, and deciding for yourself if it’s a path you’d like to continue down.