Ok, so let’s get this out of the way, you can’t MAKE your child a soccer star. It takes the perfect combination of athleticism, personality and opportunity.
Path to Pro?
Did you know that only 5.5% of high school soccer players continue to play at the NCAA level? That drops to 1.3% if you look solely at NCCA Division 1. If your goal is the MLS, it drops all the way down to .08%. Wow! That’s pretty eye-opening. But, even if your child’s chances of becoming the next Lionel Messi, Christiano Ronaldo, Christian Pulisic, Alex Morgan or Karli Lloyd are pretty small, there are steps you can take and strategies you can utilize to help your child get the most out of his or her soccer experience. It’s not all about being a star! Let’s dive in!
I’ll focus on the first two of the three ingredients of a soccer star that I mentioned above: athleticism and personality. First, athleticism. Athleticism is something your child is born with. I’m sure you’ve heard all the debate about nature vs. nurture, etc. Athleticism is almost entirely nature. To be a successful soccer player at a high level requires a great deal of athleticism. There’s no getting around that. If your child is not extremely athletic, then he or she is not going to be a high level soccer player.
Aspects of Athleticism for the Soccer Player
To break down “athleticism” a little more, soccer requires speed to run through the back line or track back on defense, strength to tackle the ball away from the opponent or hold off defenders, quickness to evade challenges, balance to maintain footing, coordination to put it all together and endurance to run forever — at the highest level, it’s 90 minutes of running with only halftime to break it up. In my view, each child has a range for each of those athletic characteristics within which they can slide up and down. That’s what they’re born with — the range.
For example, one of my daughter’s strengths is her quickness, so her range is from moderately quick to extremely quick. She could lay around on the couch all day, and she would still be fairly quick. On the other hand, if she works hard, she can be lightning quick. By contrast, quickness is a weakness for my son. His range is from pretty slow to moderately quick. If he works really hard, he can be kind of quick, but no matter how hard he works, he’s never going to be very quick. It’s just not possible for him – it’s out of his range.
Put It Together
Now, keep in mind that athleticism is an aggregation of the qualities set forth above. A weakness in one area can be offset with a strength in another. Take Messi from FC Barcelona — he’s all of 5’ 7”, 159 lbs and he has to compete with defenders like Harry Maguire from Manchester United (maybe!) at 6’ 4”, 220 lbs, so physical strength can be an issue for him. But, if you’ve watched Messi, you know that he more than offsets that weakness with his incredible quickness and touch. So, you have to combine all of those characteristics to determine your child’s overall athleticism.
The bottom line is that a weakness in one area or a couple of areas of athleticism will not preclude a child from becoming a soccer star, but, if your child is weak in most of those characteristics, then your expectations may need to be adjusted a bit downward.
Next, let’s look at personality. Like athleticism, personality leans heavily toward the nature side of the spectrum. That might surprise you. I might have doubted that fact prior to having kids, but my two kids are such polar opposites in some ways that I can no longer deny the rather rigid framework that nature puts in place. Again, that’s not to say that I think personality is 100% nature, just a higher percentage than nurture.
Aspects of Personality for the Soccer Player
Like athleticism, personality can be broken down into the key characteristics required for good soccer players: confidence, creativity, drive, intelligence, aggressiveness and spatial awareness. You’ll note that I listed confidence, creativity and drive first. I believe these personality traits are absolutely essential for a child to thrive in the game of soccer.
To use my kids as examples again, my daughter is extremely creative and unbelievably driven, but her confidence is not terribly high, while my son is incredibly confident and creative, but lacks that tireless drive. Similar to athleticism, these characteristics can be tweaked within a range and you have to look at the aggregation of the qualities to determine ultimate potential from a personality perspective.
The last factor is opportunity. But, before we get to that, I want to address the question of a child with a lower level of athleticism or a less than ideal soccer personality. Does that mean that the child should not play soccer? Absolutely, positively not! There are many different levels of soccer, and the benefits of playing soccer will last a lifetime.
The point is to be realistic in your expectations, and put your child at a level where they can maximize their experience and have fun. My daughter plays in one of the highest divisions in one of the most competitive leagues in our region, while my son played in the seventh division of a local league. Both love soccer and really enjoy playing; but their experiences are tailored to their abilities.
What Can I Control?
So, opportunity — the one factor that you, as a parent, have the most significant control over. Opportunity is a wide-ranging topic that encompasses when to start soccer training, recreational vs. club soccer, what type of training is best, how to find the right coach, do you have to spend a lot of money, etc. Those are several of my topics for future posts, so stay tuned. Let’s make your child a soccer star together!