There is a common held belief in a theory which states it takes 10,000 hours of training to become a specialist in an area. Ten years of training at 1,000 hours per year. One thousand hours per year is 83 1/3 hours per month. Eighty-three and one-third hours per month is 19 1/4 hours each week. Nineteen and one quarter hours each week is 2 3/4 hours per day, every day, for 10 years to become proficient in an area and be considered an expert.
How realistic is it that many of our children will invest this kind of time into academics, art, sport and so on? In fact, when it comes to youth soccer, there is and always has been one local boy who has out-trained all of the others for years. He is internally motivated, driven, competitive, self-conscious and aware of his goals. The fact that many other players share the same goals, very few, if any, others can or will put in his kind of workload. Then you have to factor in the physical barriers. Mental barriers. Geographical barriers. There is so much to take into consideration for any young athlete pursuing a future goal to become a professional soccer player.
The reality is that for most players in and around our community, learning to excel in their chosen sport may not be as easy as it seems. Let’s start with your first soccer experience (likely house soccer at the club level). You could be four to five years old, eight to nine years old or even 12-13 years old. Once you have gotten your feet wet and you find that this is something you like then the options to receive further training are likely presented to you and your family in some form of rep team, development camp and/or academy. So you register and become a member of another group, which may be in addition to your first commitment to club soccer. At some point, house or tier three soccer may become tier two or VIPL, for some tier one called the HPL. Now, when you participate in your second program to further develop your skills there are experienced players and parents who encourage you to consider another or the next level or type of academy and/or development concept. Now you have three various soccer-related activities you are experiencing at the same time. Then there is school. Other hobbies and/or sports.
I can assure you, over-involving your child in too many programs is not a good thing. We see it all the time, players running from activity to activity, trying to fit it all in. Families enrolling their children in multiple programs that serve similar purposes in an effort to better train their kids and receive maximum exposure. Maximum exposure for any player under the age of 12-13 years should come in the form of playing soccer three to four times per week (unless your son or daughter is highly motivated and focussed - for this there is an exception to every rule). Three to four times per week, one of which will likely include a game, which means three training sessions to one game.
Does this fall in line with long term athlete development?
Have you ever asked yourself that question as you are driving your son or daughter between training sessions, between academy or development programs?
Have you ever asked yourself how many players are discovered internationally from within Canada on any given year? Have you ever asked yourself why your family chose soccer when you first started?
Let me guess. Soccer is a fun, recreational activity which encourages teamwork, co-operation, fitness, co-ordination/balance and finding new friends. It can sometimes be accelerated into an entirely different set of expectations based on parent pressure and/or program pressure. Program pressure comes in the form of placing unrealistic goals in front of a player who does not belong in such a program. Parent pressure comes in the form of forcing players into programs and/or environments in which their children may not belong. Of course, it is always possible to check the waters to see how far a person can swim. But, have you ever considered that not all players have the same drive, desire or determination?
Finding the right program is essential to the long-term love of the game we can and will establish at a very early age. Be sure to educate yourselves on the programs available in your area, set realistic goals for your son or daughter, and create a schedule that aligns with those goals. The value of an educated decision-making process defines the relationships your children will develop playing organized youth soccer. I can assure you after more than 40 years of being involved in youth soccer, the relationships with fellow players, coaches, athletes, mentors and my peers are what made the journey worthwhile.
Shel Brodsgaard is the soccer development coordinator for the the VIPL Riptide program