Six-year-old Harper looked forward to her daily screen time. She watched her cartoons on Nick Jr., had favorite channels on YouTube, loved the games on her Kindle, and adored music videos. But her parents got worried when Harper began choosing her tablet over playing outside with friends or riding her beloved bike. So after some research, they decided to put her on a soccer team. She was a little resistant at first, but she quickly grew to love the sport—and choose it over screen time.
With more than 3 million youth soccer players in the U.S., it's clear that kids and parents love the sport. But it's more than a game. When young children play soccer, they learn about teamwork, decision-making, love of physical activity, healthy competition and valuable social skills.
One of the most valuable things soccer teaches young kids is the importance of teamwork. A team might have a star player, but it will never do well unless all the players are working together. Because of the nature of the sport, they have to learn to trust each other to do their jobs—from the goalie to the attackers, defenders, and midfielders—and work together, or they'll never accomplish their goals. Learning to be part of a team builds a child's interpersonal communications skills, strengthens social and emotional skills, improves confidence, and makes them feel like they're part of a community. Understanding the value of teamwork will set a child up for later success in life.
When you're out on the pitch during a game, you've got to make split-second decisions. Should you pass to the teammate on your right or left? How can you get around the kid from the opposing team? Players must scan the environment, analyze what's happening and determine what to do—often in a limited time window, while physically tired and facing opponents. And being able to make decisions is an essential life skill that children need to become healthy adults.
Love for physical activity
In the age of tablets, smart phones, and on-demand TV, many children aren't getting enough exercise. But getting a child involved in soccer at an early age will teach them to love being active because it's a game. And physical activity leads to better long-term health, self-esteem, and success in school. They learn to love to run, with short, fun sprints with friends. They pick up jumping, dodging and galloping skills. And they learn all about kicking—did you know some players master kicking with eight different surfaces on their foot? Getting children involved in soccer teaches them to love physical activity, which leads to a healthy and prosperous life.
It's always fun to win, but learning that losing is part of life—and not the end of the world—is a valuable lesson for kids. It's not enough to sing "sometimes you win, sometimes you lose" along with "Yo Gabba Gabba," they need to experience healthy competition. In healthy competition, children learn:
- Losing is OK
- To focus on self-improvement
- Blame isn't part of the game
- Teamwork is essential
Parents and coaches can emphasize the lessons of healthy competition by setting a good example, and not criticizing others or trash-talking teammates or opponents. Learning to love winning and how to learn from a loss is a valuable life lesson that soccer teaches kids.
Soccer not only teaches physical skills, but it also gives kids social skills as well. Playing soccer requires children to communicate with each other, the coach and referees. Players also must learn to share and work together toward a common goal. Research shows that children who develop social skills early in life have more academic and career success. Soccer teaches young children important social skills that will serve them throughout their lives.
More than 3 million children lace up their cleats and hit soccer fields every year, and for a good reason. It not only gets kids outside, but it also teaches skills that will serve them for years to come. It teaches children teamwork, decision-making, love of physical activity, healthy competition and valuable social skills.