So many times I hear from the parents of players of all ages “I just want him/her to have fun.” What is often forgotten is that what is fun for one child may look very different to another. Just as it does for adults.
What is FUN?
Take for example that super competitive adult friend (we all have one) who finds nothing more exciting and fun than pushing herself as hard as she can. Striving not only to be her best, but to be better than everyone else. She may train at a frequency and intensity to reach that goal that others do not understand, but she loves it. She thrives in an environment where she continually pushes herself and is pushed and challenged by teammates. An environment where performance and ability drive opportunity and playing time.
Now consider the friend who loves to play and the camaraderie that comes from being on a team. She rarely trains on her own but usually makes regularly scheduled pick-up sessions or games. On this team everyone plays and team activities are often followed by social events, coffee or an EPL viewing at the local bar.
Which one is more fun?
If they were to switch teams would they still have fun?
Or would they give up the sport because “it was no longer fun?”
Children are the same.
FUN is Not the Same For Everyone
I have worked with college, as well as state and regional ODP, players who were driven to play at the highest level possible. They loved nothing more than putting in the work and made what others perceived as sacrifices to do so. The desire to work and strive for individual and team goals that may or may not be attained can be a fun and thrilling environment. The level of play is exciting.
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However the commitment to attain it is not without tradeoffs. There is a reason they make T-Shirts for athletes that say: “I can’t, I have practice.” Travel and training expectations will limit other activities and time with friends outside of soccer, and the outcome of earning a position, winning an event or making a particular team (college, national, etc. …) is not guaranteed.
It is in the commitment to reach for this goal that many of these players find fun.
Now consider the 12-year-old AYSO players I worked with several years ago. They loved to play and improve, but most had no desire to train or play outside of practice or in an ultra-competitive and demanding environment. Those that did had already left for teams that could provide that. These players instead enjoyed playing in the fall and spring, would rarely miss a practice and every player, regardless of ability, saw playing time in every game.
These players found joy in the time they spent on the field with their teammates as well as a full slate of other activities that did not involve the game. When the soccer season ended they were just as excited to be moving on to the next season’s sport or activity.
Finding a “FUN fit”
When we look to place a child on a team where he or she will thrive – and have fun – we must first and foremost take into account what that individual child considers fun.
This may be – but is not necessarily – the highest level team available or where their parents would have had fun as children. To play on an ECNL or DA team is fun for the player who thrives on the challenge, commitment and competitive environment that it can provide. However, for other children, playing with their friends on a local town team can be the more fun and rewarding experience.
Children should be placed on teams that can provide opportunities to experience what they consider and find fun. Instead of looking for the “best” team or club, the search should be for the best team or club for the individual child.
When this “fun fit” is found, fun follows and players stick with the sport and growth as players – and people – is at its highest.