Unstructured soccer play might be best for active girl

ASK CAL

Ask Cal

October 30, 2005|By CAL RIPKEN JR.

My daughter, 6, takes swimming classes twice a week, dance classes once a week, and wants to play on a soccer team. Should we add soccer to her schedule, or wait?

- Rebecca Clifford, Baltimore

I think it is great that your daughter wants to experience all of these things. Whether she can handle all of this is a decision only you can make. At 6, it might be a challenge to keep her focused on all of these activities.

I would suggest that you expose her to soccer in a more unstructured way. Maybe put together a gathering of her friends in the park over the weekend where the kids can kick the ball around and have fun. We all know that kids can be fickle and something like this will help you determine whether or not her interest is for real.

I am a youth league coach for boys and girls baseball, basketball and football. I have found that the parents of the children in each sport place a very different emphasis on competitiveness. I understand that on any given team there is a wide range of expectations on winning. I also am very adamant about teaching fundamentals first in all sports. However, with a small program and no elite squads available, it is a difficult balance. What do you think is a good balance?

- David Lowry, Frostburg

First, I want to commend you on making such a commitment to youth sports. Coaches and volunteers like you are gold, and I hope that the parents understand what a large sacrifice you are making.

It would help me to understand how old the kids are. Assuming that they are all 10 or younger, I believe that your focus needs to be largely on fun and giving them a good, solid fundamental base to work from. The focus on winning will naturally accelerate in high school and beyond.

Winning at such a young age should be much lower on the priority list. A large focus on winning can take the joy from the game for the kids and, as a result, make them not want to participate in the future. This is a time when you can either help increase their passion and enthusiasm for the game or kill it completely.

It seems to me that you are approaching things correctly, and as long as the parents understand your philosophy of teaching and having fun from the start - and you are consistent about it, there can be no complaints on their end.

Is it dangerous for the media to report on high school and lower levels of sports, as it may make the kids believe their own "press" and concentrate more on sports and less on academics?

- Mike, Ontario, California

I think the result of media coverage at a young age can be a positive. It all depends on how it is treated by the coaches and parents.

The onus needs to fall on the adults to explain that coverage is very nice and makes everyone feel great, but you need to maintain perspective. When the adults treat the media coverage as a priority, or as an indication that this athlete is superior to the others, problems are bound to arise.

Overall, media coverage can be a good thing. It is a great big slap on the back, and everybody needs that from time to time. The trick is to play down the coverage and remind young athletes that the true value is on the field and the opinions that matter most come from their teammates, coaches and parents.

Have a question or issue arising from your involvement in youth sports? Send it by e-mail to askcal@baltimoresun.com.

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