Stress and youth sports just don't mix.
The No. 1 priority of youth sports should be for the kids to have fun. We want our kids to be active and learn what it means to be a part of a team. If the kids don't have fun, they're likely to give up the sport all together. A poll from the National Alliance of Youth Sports found that 70 percent of U.S. kids stop playing organized sports by the age of 13, citing "not having fun anymore" as the most common reason.
Do we really want our youth athletes to burn out on sports before they even hit their teens? Of course not. But that's exactly what happens when parents or coaches place pressure on kids to perform when the focus should be on having fun and learning the basics of the sport.
Christen Press, a forward for the U.S. Women's National Soccer team, believes that stress is often the first thing kids learn to associate with a sport due to overzealous parents or coaches.
"It's really important when you're young to enjoy it. I think in America, it's too often that we see that the first thing you learn in sports is the stress of it and trying to please your parents on the sideline," Press said. "So I think that having an open field and a space where you actually get to play is very important. If you look at other countries, they play on the streets more, it's more of a free-form style, and I think that's important for development."
That second part is important. How do we make youth sports fun for kids who are just starting out? Make the practices and training sessions more like good old-fashioned pick-up games. Establish some basic rules, roll out a ball, and just let the kids play.
"Coaches can often be more helpful to a young player's development by organizing less, saying less and allowing the players to do more. Set up a game and let the kids play. Keep most of your comments for before and after practice and during water breaks," reads the U.S. Soccer pamphlet Best Practices for Coaching Soccer in the United States. "Kids need to be allowed to play freely, develop their skills and use them in a creative manner."
While scrimmages and small-sided games are always an excellent choice, simple drills like this one from the U.S. Women's National Team can also be a great way to enhance skill, breed creativity, and foster fun all at once. If you're a soccer coach, player, parent or league administrator, make the most out of your experience by signing up for U.S. Soccer Connect.
Photo Credit: Matthew Visinsky/Getty Images
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