I have come to love soccer because I have two grandsons who play. Eric, the eldest will be 16 this year and I have watched him grow into a wonderful young man. Hard to believe he will be off to college in just two years. CJ, who is only 9 is also a soccer player. It is great fun to watch these two boys develop as athletes. Many of the boys who now play on the High School teams have been playing Club Soccer since they were just four and five years old. Although they play together on the Club teams, they are frequently opponents on the school teams. This makes for some interesting soccer since they are already familiar with the play of the opposing player.
Needless to say, it was an exciting weekend. I learned that one of the most outstanding players on the school team will not be playing soccer when he goes to college. I found that surprising because he is such an excellent player. It made me wonder if he was only playing in high school because his father is a soccer coach and he is playing to please his Dad. Nothing wrong with that, but it made me feel some sorrow that he might not be playing with the joy of the game. He is a really terrific player who is cool and collected and makes great plays, and maybe that is why he is a good player, he THINKS the game. He isn't as emotional. Others on his team play with heart. Their moves may not always be as smart, but because of the effort and joy exerted, they still make winning moves. Some of the boys who played last year have already gotten scholarships to great Colleges. For some of the kids this is their ticket to higher education. So, I began to wonder exactly what are the reasons the boys play soccer.
I venture to say that for some, it is the pure JOY of the game. You can see it in the way they move, and their concentration. You can see it is the way they in spite of being knocked to the ground during a play, they jump up and take off without hesitation and even when they are hurting they will continue to "play through it." Some of the players are playing because of the encouragement of their parents and their desire to live up to their parents expectations. They don't play quite as hard....the drive and joy are not at the level of those who play for the love of the game. Then there are those who are playing for scholarships. These kids study like crazy to get the grades necessary to get them into a good College, and then put in endless hours of play and practice to achieve the quality of play which will assure them scholarships to big name schools.
A friend of mine has a basketball playing son who just became the Big East Player of the Year! What an accomplishment. This young man has worked hard to earn this honor, and really deserves it. When you watch him play basketball, you see his love of the game and his great enthusiasm in every move. He thinks about it and plays smart. His Dad was a professional ball player, and has been a mentor along the way, helping to develop his raw talent. But when it comes right down to it, the young man developed his own style and work ethic to get where he is. He jumps for joy!
It is quite expensive to play for the Club/Travel Teams. There is a cost to join and the travel expenses for the out of town games is quite high. Not all families can afford this kind of expense. Then there is ODP, the Olympic Development Program. The boys have to "qualify" for this program at tryouts, but there is also an expense to this program as well as more travel. It requires a lot of commitment on the part of the players as well as the parents.
I love watching the boys play soccer. I love seeing their joy when they score a point or block one. I love to watch them jump for joy. So many times in these times we see people play sports for the money, and I guess the money may be their joy. But on occasion you see a player who plays for the pure JOY of the game. Whether it be soccer, basketball or American football, you can tell by the attitude and demeanor of the player which ones actually love the game. They play for the pure joy of it. The exhilaration of kicking the perfect goal, the joy of a new move, the cheers of the crowd all feed their ability. I like seeing them jump for joy!
So, if you are a parent and you have a child who loves athletics, find the one they love. Let them play for the pure joy of it. If something more comes of it great, but if it is just the pure pleasure of the game, more the better!