As soccer parents, the questions often linger in the back of our minds. Is or can my child be an elite soccer player? Are children born to be elite soccer players or do they have to be developed into elite players? Your child will answer these questions, if you pay close attention. Here are three things to look for.
Is Your Child Motivated?
- Do they like to practice?
- Do they enjoy the entire process of soccer?
- Do they even want to play?
- Are they playing because they love to play, or are they playing looking for approval from you as the parent?
- Do they try to improve on their own, or do you have to beg them to go out and practice?
The best way to find out really how motivated your child is is you want to look for clues from your child. They'll tell you. They won't come out and say, "I'm very motivated," or possibly they will say that and not mean it. You want to look for subtle clues.
Do they go out and practice on their own? If you're able, do they ask you to help them with soccer drills? Maybe if you don't have a yard for them to play in, do they ask you to take them down to the local field and play soccer with them? Do they play with other kids in the neighborhood who don't play on the soccer team?
Do they talk to you at all about trying to get better?
On that note, my son, who is 11 years old, last summer went to camp at Furman University. It was his first time away from home. Furman has a good Division I program and a very highly regarded coach in the soccer community.
When my son came home, I was talking to him about the camp. I asked him if he want to go back again next year? He said, "I don't really know if I want to go back." I asked him why, and he said, "Well, I didn't really learn anything new at the camp."
When we had that little conversation, that really told me that he wants to get better. He's not just interested in playing and winning games. He wants to get better as a soccer player and learn as much about the game as possible. That was really the first clue that I had that he was really, really serious about soccer.
If you want to know if your child is serious about soccer, tune in to little subtle clues like that. They'll tell you.
Is Your Child Skilled Enough?
A word of caution here, parents' opinions don't count. If you ask me, as a soccer dad, my son is the greatest youth soccer player that ever lived, but my opinion doesn't count.
You need to get a professional evaluation, whether it's from the coach, or another licensed soccer professional. We're fortunate enough to have a North American Soccer League team here in town, and my son participates in their development program. Every ten weeks we get a written evaluation of the skills and what he needs to work on.
A little caution about this. A negative evaluation is not the end of the world. If there are a lot of things that your child needs to work on, it's good that you know them as soon as possible. You've identified where they're weak, and you can work on that. Also keep in mind that different players develop at different rates.
As I said, my son is 11. He's in that pre-teen stage and going through puberty, and everything's all over the map.
Some players are early bloomers. Some are late bloomers. You need to get that professional evaluation, so you'll know where your child is and what he or she needs to do to improve to get to that elite level.
Is Your Child Mentally Tough?
Three things to me comprise mental toughness in soccer.
Will Your Child Give Maximum Effort When Losing?
When they're down 3-nothing, 4-nothing in a game, it's 90 degrees out, they have 15 minutes left to go in the game, and it's looking very bleak, and it's obvious the other team is probably a little better. Do they still give maximum effort, or do they start to loaf and make excuses? Will they keep hustling til the end?
Can Your Child Accept Tough Coaching?
I know that can be a lightning-rod issue in today's society, with a lot of parents saying that coaches are too tough and a lot of parents saying coaches aren't tough enough. Regardless, if they're going to be mentally tough, they'll have to accept tough coaching. As a parent, sometimes you have to dish out tough love. The child needs to be able to accept it.
The same goes in soccer. They really need to be able to accept tough coaching because they're going to be exposed to a lot of different coaching styles throughout their soccer career. If they can't handle a tough coach, if that coach is at an elite level or the gateway to the elite level, they may not ever make that elite level.
Does Your Child Compete?
Anybody can compete and display maximum effort when they're winning 4-nothing, they're winning 4-2, or whatever score may be. Do they compete, let's say, at a tournament when it's obvious the other team is better? Do they get in there and give their all and compete and give maximum effort? Are they still hustling when their team is losing 4-0 with five minutes left and it's 90 degrees on the pitch?
If you can answer a definitive "yes" to all three of those questions, your soccer player has the chance to be elite. As in life, many other factors can come in to play, but if your child is self-motivated, skilled (or willing to work tirelessly to improve to improve their skills, and mentally tough, they are well on their way!