As parents, we want our children to be active and healthy, especially during their early years. When considering what physical activities can be good for our children, sports always becomes the number one option.
Nowadays, kinds as early as 3 can start playing sports and even though it’s cute and amazing, some parents wonder if that is their children are actually ready for sports such as soccer, football, cheerleading, or baseball. As a father of a boy and a girl, soccer coach, and having played soccer my entire life, I’m going to focus on Soccer as an introductory sport or physical activity for children.
On this article, I will talk about what to consider when trying to answer the question: When can kids start playing soccer? (and I assume the question is about playing for a team because they can kick a ball as soon as they can walk)
First of All… Safety!
Contact is expected on soccer at all ages, not to the same intensity but there will always be contact while playing soccer. And with contact comes some risks of injuries just like in any other sport or physical activity.
Another thing we must consider is if soccer is a good sport for our children based on their personality and how can they react to that environment. As a father of 2 and having a nephew, I can assure that not all kids are ready to follow direction at a specific age. Again, we are talking about when can kids start playing soccer for a team.
I personally suggest that as early as 5 years of age most kids can be ready to play soccer based on safety only.
Understanding of the Game vs Exposure
Now, once we decide that it is safe for our kids, we get to the next of whether my child is ready for soccer. At this point, we have to consider if we want them to just play so that they stay healthy or if we would like soccer to become their first sport because is in the family. The reason will make a huge difference.
If we just want them just to play soccer for fun, then I would recommend that someone plays with them for a year before they are part of a team. Even though is for fun, kids tend to be very sensitive with being capable of doing what other kids do. Basic skills like kicking a ball, passing, receiving, and dribbling are thing that they should know; and nothing too crazy because they are just entering to the world of soccer. Therefore, I would suggest that at the age of 6, kids are ready to join a team for fun.
Everything changes if our goal is to give our children a fair opportunity to make it to the professional level one day. If you think that I’m exaggerating, I would like you to consider that most professional players retire in their early 30s and they started playing professionally before they turned 20. My point is that exposure to soccer should start as early as possible IF the main goal is to have the children go all the way or at least try to!
With the goal of professional level for our children or at least competitive level, I would suggest to (before signing them up with a team) train your child on your own or have a friend do it. There is no need to sign up for team when your child hasn’t been exposed to kicking a ball. Soccer academies and private coaches may disagree with me but I’m writing this article as a father. (I also coach and I tell exactly the same thing to ALL parents – nothing against soccer academies – in fact, I would definitely enjoy having one). With this in mind, I would suggest to look for a good team or soccer academy when your child is 7-8 years old.
Natural Talent vs Talent through Discipline
Considering the talent of our child can also help us to figure out when is the right time for soccer. We love our children above everything and we know that they are capable of achieving anything that they set as a goal, even when they are in their early years. However, we must also realize that we can do much better if we discover what their natural talent is and push them to reach their highest potential with that natural skill. And as a coach, you can tell when a kid is just a natural soccer player.
I believe that discipline can defeat talent in soccer (and applies to other things in life as well). Now, soccer skills can be mastered through discipline or by nature. Some professional players like Ronaldinho have proof that when they were younger, they had the talent in their blood and all they needed was a soccer ball. For gifted young players, the starting age is irrelevant because once the see a soccer ball, the magic begins!
When it comes to talent and age to start playing soccer, we must look at our children and expose them to soccer. Their personality and skills will tell us when they are ready.
So, when is the Appropriate Age?
Summarizing everything in a simple number may not be fair because, as mentioned above, it depends on the main reason why we want our children to play soccer. For fun as a physical activity, I would say 5-6. With a purpose in mind and long term goals, I would say 7-8. Either way, we are exposing them to a physical activity to keep them healthy. As a side note, soccer will keep them busy and WILL get them tired (hopefully!). They will release so much energy during practice and games.
What I would expect as a parent is that, by age 10-12, my child has a concrete understanding of the game. Otherwise, soccer is just a physical activity and BELIEVE ME there is nothing wrong with that. Soccer as a sport can develop social skills, communication skills, physical skills, intrapersonal skills, interpersonal skills, and much more. Children gain a lot more than championships when they play soccer and that’s why this sport is good at all ages.
The real question is: Are they having FUN?
At the end of the day, we want our children to be happy so perhaps the age is not quite important as long as they are enjoying what they do.
Writing this article as a parent makes me wonder how many of us unconsciously put pressure on our children to meet OUR expectations. Expectations that WE could accomplish during our younger years. However, sometimes this pressure leads to better our children and guide them through the path that we have walked on.
No matter how old they are, always keep in mind their Health, Safety, and Happiness!
Please, leave your comments, questions, or suggestions below. Thank you.