This time of year is a time of dread for many young soccer players and their families. At tryout time, children move from club to club attempting to make “the top team” with “the best coaches” around. Young players worry about losing their spots on the team, or playing with a new group of kids. Parents obsess over what tournaments their kids will be playing (at u-9!).
Here’s the thing…we all know that kids mature differently. Everyone involved in youth sports – parents, coaches, administrators, etc. – need to view the child’s development process from a Long Term Player Development (LTPD) perspective. How an athlete performs at age 10 has little bearing on his ability at age 20. In the words of one coaching director, college coaches don’t care what your child won when he was u-10. Consequently, a long-term view is needed.
The important point to take home here is that parents and young kids shouldn’t concern themselves with what team they made. The simple priority is to determine what is the best environment for the young player. At the youth level, the environment is facilitated by the coach and club philosophy, parents, teammates, and most importantly, the player.
The bottom line regarding development – whether professional coaches are involved or not – is that learning is up to the learner. It’s all about the environment, because at the end of the day, the game is supposed to be fun! A child has every right to enjoy playing the game – at a level commensurate with his ability. Many coaches at competitive levels will not give much playing time to kids they deem “weaker” than the others on the roster. Nobody wants to be on a team and not play in games. Kids can have a miserable experience if they are placed on a team where they are out of their depth.
Actually, the word “tryout” should really be a misnomer at younger ages. As kids grow older and try to make more advanced teams, yes – players are “trying out.” At the younger ages, however, the concept should be more of an evaluation, where all players attend. While certain players would be selected for competitive teams, the remainder of the kids could be divided into relatively equal teams ability-wise. Intramural league play would be competitive, challenging, and fun – three components all kids crave, regardless of ability.
And what if a player isn’t selected for the “top” team? Parents fret about where a child is placed, but it’s not horrible that a player be asked to “drop down” a level for a year. Entire teams do this from time to time in order to better reinforce concepts of play. It is important to understand that at each level the difference is the speed of play. Slowing the game down in order to “see” plays develop helps a player grow in his overall understanding, which can help as they seek to make improvements in their own game…thereby allowing them to get better and ultimately advance to higher levels of play. In short, a step down can offer a player the opportunity to improve and, eventually, take a step forward.
Tryouts can be a challenging time for kids. The bottom line for parents: let the kids enjoy the game at their own level. Encourage them – absolutely! But let them make the game what they want it to be.