I’ll be the first to admit the whole soccer craze took our family by surprise. When we signed our oldest up for a local town team, we were just looking for an activity for his endless energy. He was 4 at the time. The ‘team’ was more an activity group that practiced each week and scrimmaged amongst themselves (since we had no league at the time) and was run by two of our more experienced coaches. We had no idea what was in store for us. Our son loved playing soccer and was so excited when our local league started up the next Spring. Many of the kids who participated in the program the previous fall formed a team coached by the same two coaches. The next season I got recruited to coach the remnants of his U6 team that was left when the original coaches moved up with their kids to U8. Finally, my wife and I got heavily involved in helping run the league. Fun was, and is, being had by all. We all really enjoy being involved.
As our son got older and moved up into U8, he started to show some good ball handling and field skills. He seemed to be understanding the game better and how to handle the ball in different situations. He’s gone to soccer camp at Duke University for three years now and each year returned with new and improved skills. In his last U8 season before moving up to U10, he was doing very well and having lots of fun. When some parents commented on how our son played and asked if he was going to try out for a challenge team, we honestly hadn’t thought about it.
He scored goals and was able to move the ball up field fairly well, though his ball handling was clearly better than his shooting. He really loved playing soccer – we’re not psycho soccer parents (well on most days) and it was clear that he enjoyed learning about the game, going to camps. Even ball chasing for Duke’s men’s soccer team once in a while is a thrill for him.
Our local league doesn’t have any challenge teams, but a nearby city (about 30 minutes away) does. So we struggled long and hard trying to decide if we should let him try out. On one hand he was young for a U10 challenge team, but there were a couple other parents with equally talented players considering having their kids try out. Knowing how involved we were with our local league – we worried how we could handle the travel schedule and practices that were a decent drive away. Plus there is always the "am I pushing him into it" or "will he burn out" worries. We talked to him about it in general terms trying not to let on where he might get his hopes up. He seemed open to the idea of playing elsewhere against more advanced players, though he would miss his friends in the local rec league. On the other hand, exposing him to more advanced coaches would help him improve and if he had a knack for the game, it would allow him to develop it more than if he was being coached by someone like me!
In the end, we sat on the fence too long and missed the tryouts. One other player in U8 tried out and made a U10 team and is thriving. But looking back, I’m not upset that he stayed in recreational for now. He’s doing very well in U10, scoring in every match, usually more than once. And his ball handling is improving with each match (though as his coach I cannot take credit for it – he is clearly coming up with a lot of it on his own because ‘it makes sense to do that’.
Does that mean challenge is out for good? No. I think when he’s 9 years old, we’ll likely let him try out for a team if he wants to. We’ll figure out how to manage the schedule somehow. He really is fun to watch when he plays and if better coaching lets him enjoy the sport he loves more than he does now – all the better.
It was a tough decision. I know many parents face this decision each summer (many in our budding league did). What other issues did you deal with when you dealt with it? Did you end up making the right choice?