Should Your Child Play Competitive Soccer? How to Know

If you and your child share a love of soccer, it might seem like a logical step to channel your child’s passion into playing competitively. There can be fear about waiting too long to make the changeover from recreational soccer since you don’t want your child to fall too far behind. But competitive soccer can have its drawbacks, especially if you start too early.

To know whether your child should play competitive soccer, consider the following:

  • The child’s age, maturity, and skill level
  • Whether the child prefers to focus exclusively on soccer
  • Whether you are ready for the time and financial commitment
  • What you hope to gain from playing competitively

Deciding whether to take the leap into competitive soccer or not is challenging, so we’ve broken down some of the things to think about when deciding if and when it’s a good idea to let your kid play competitively.

How to Know If Your Kid Should Play Competitive Soccer

There’s not always a clear-cut answer to the question, “should my child play competitive soccer?” But taking the time to weigh the pros and cons will go a long way towards figuring out what’s right for you and your child. Below are some of the most important things to consider.

How Old Is Your Child?

The first thing to consider when it comes to enrolling your child in a competitive sport is the child’s age. Many parents want to sign up their child for competitive soccer as early as possible to avoid letting the child fall behind. But there are a few reasons why making the switch from recreational to competitive sports at too young an age might backfire.

Soccer game action

Mental Development

Sports are great for helping young children learn the importance of teamwork and developing coordination. But experts agree that kids’ brains don’t fully grasp the implications of competition until at least eight years of age, and some until age 10.

Focusing on the competitive aspect, rather than the fun and skill of soccer, too early can lead to stress, low self-esteem, and even depression.

Increased Risk of Injury

It’s becoming more common for kids to focus intensely on a specific sport rather than rotating between several. The reasoning behind this makes sense: the earlier the child specializes in a sport, the more time they’ll have to dedicate to training.

But surprisingly, studies show that early specialization leads to more injuries, such as:

  • ACL tears
  • Stress fractures
  • Tendonitis

To prevent this, Children’s Hospital Colorado suggests not letting children specialize in just one sport until age 12, as well as keeping an eye out for early signs of overuse injuries and not pushing the child too hard.

Potential for Burnout

Lastly, starting a child in competitive soccer too young can easily lead to burnout, especially as the child’s interests change and grow. Letting them spend early childhood experimenting with different activities will make it more likely that, when they choose a specialty a little later, it will stick.

How Mature Is Your Child?

As we discussed in the last section, it’s imperative that you wait until your child is old enough before putting him or her into competitive soccer. But all kids are different, and it’s natural for them to grow and mature at different rates.

Age can be a useful guideline, but make sure to also take your child’s maturity level into account before committing to competition. If your child lacks discipline or has trouble focusing, for example, they might benefit from another year or two of recreational play while they learn the skills needed for competition.

Is Your Child a Skilled Soccer Player?

If you and your child love soccer, it’s only natural that you might consider signing your child up for competitive soccer. But passion doesn’t always equate to talent or skill, unfortunately, and pushing your kid into competition might result in less enjoyment of the game if the child’s not ready.

After all, recreational soccer is all about socializing and team building, whereas competitive play is centered around winning. That means that less talented players will be stuck on the sidelines during competitive games, resulting in less playing time and, therefore, less enjoyment.

If your child’s continuously wowing you with their playing, on the other hand, they might really enjoy the extra level of training and competitiveness.   If you think your child is good enough, check out 10 Signs Your Kid is Great at Soccer.

Is Your Child Focused on Soccer?

If your kid lives and breathes soccer and doesn’t want to play anything else, playing competitively will be more worthwhile than it would be for a kid who is happy to play anything that involves running around with a ball.

If your child is interested in multiple sports, it might be a good idea to let them play a few recreationally rather than focus intently on soccer alone.

Once you switch from recreational sports to playing at a competitive level, your time and energy commitment go up exponentially, meaning less time for other activities. Focusing on soccer at the expense of other sports might lead to boredom and resentment, which is the opposite of what sports are meant to foster.

What Is Your Family’s Schedule?

When a child plays competitive sports, it’s something that affects the whole family. Before committing, make sure that you have enough time in your schedule to work around frequent training sessions and tournaments, which often include travel, increasing the time requirements even more.

Parents are often expected to volunteer a certain number of hours with their child’s team as well, so be sure to factor that in.

It can be hard enough to juggle work and school commitments with recreational sports, but playing competitively takes it to a whole other level; this goes double for families with more than one child playing competitively.

What Is Your Financial Situation?

Any parent will tell you that it’s hard to enroll your child in any activity without incurring costs. But if your child starts playing competitive soccer, expect your costs to climb even higher.

Typical costs will include:

  • Uniforms and equipment
  • Travel and lodging for away games
  • (Sometimes expected) donations to the team
  • Training
  • Sports camp

Although it’s on the high end, it’s not unheard of for parents to spend a whopping $10,000 a year on their child’s sport (See Why is Youth Soccer So Expensive?).

What Are You Hoping to Gain?

This question might sound a little odd, especially to naturally competitive parents who want their children to excel in every aspect of life. But it’s important to consider what exactly it is that you’re hoping to gain from enrolling your child in competitive soccer.

After all, many of the benefits of recreational sports for kids are the same as in competitive sports:

  • Social skills and friendship
  • Better coordination and motor skills development
  • Healthy weight and better vision
  • Self-confidence

If you want to raise the stakes for your child, encouraging them to work harder and develop greater skill in the game, competitive soccer might have the edge. But if you’re simply looking for a healthy, character-building activity for your child, recreational soccer will provide just as much benefit with less commitment from you or your child.

Final Thoughts

While there are plenty of reasons why you would want your child to play soccer competitively, there are also a fair number of reasons why you might want to consider putting it off or avoiding it altogether. Ultimately, it’s something that you and your child have to talk about and decide together, after weighing all the pros and cons.  If you do make the decision to go competitive, review How to Pick the Right Club and Coach, The 10 Pros of Club Soccer You Need to Know and The Top 10 Cons of Club Soccer for some tips on how to make sure the experience is a good one.

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