Youth Soccer Players Are Still Kids
A global sports psychologist and author specializing in soccer, Dan Abrahams is based in England and has helped hundreds of professional soccer players – many of them who play in the English Premier League (EPL). Working with players from Crystal Palace, QPR, Fulham, and West Ham United among other clubs, Abrahams helps players reach their potential.
Abrahams is a columnist for SoccerToday and we asked him for his thoughts on the mania of the multi-billion dollar youth sports industry and the intense focus to develop youth soccer players into professional players. Here are his thoughts.
DAN ABRAHAMS ON WHAT SOCCER PARENTS NEED TO KNOW
There is a lack of convincing evidence that because you are highly competent at an activity at an early age, you will be world leading in that activity in adulthood.
In simple terms, just because a youth soccer player is great, it doesn’t mean he or she will grow up to be the next superstar.
There are also complex psychological dynamics at play.
Life is never linear, and what a child wants and loves at 10 years old rarely remains the same at 13, 15 and 18 years old.
With this in mind I would argue that children need to be given space to try different things, explore, make mistakes, enjoy competing and create a blueprint for dealing with failure.
There is some scientific evidence to suggest that early specialisation in a single sport can lead to burnout and injury. And, if you speak with some of the world’s leading experts on child development within a sport setting, I could take an educated guess that they would all recommend a child enjoying and competing across a range of sports.
Having a goal of being a professional athlete from a very early age sounds exciting, but dedication to a single craft at such a young age can lead to complex psychological dynamics.
The child who engages in one sport in an overly intense way will likely wrap their identity around the sport.
Play bad and they feel down or worse still worthless and possibly depressed.
Their sport becomes who they are – this may not be the kind of upbringing that is conducive to become a high functioning adult.
The child who engages in one sport with the addition of parental pressure probably won’t develop the kind of autonomy that’s important in adult life.
Exploring a range of activities as a child and being able to make choice is an essential blueprint that leads to healthy decision making as an adult. Finally, the child athlete consumed by one sport and pressured into trying to become a professional at the age of 10 may develop a fixed mindset. They’ll likely try to protect their talent and refuse to take risks on the playing field. Why would they want to do anything that could make them fail or look stupid when they’ve been praised all their lives for being so good.
However, we must all remember that parents make decisions for their children based on love and a want for their kids to achieve in life. They look at the very top level of sport, and quite rightly, look at the enormity of challenges it delivers (and lets face it – in sports like swimming and gymnastics early specialisation is a must).
It is understandable that parents feel it right to expose their children to long hours of practice and tough gruelling schedules to help them achieve their child’s dreams. So, while I think it’s important to empathize with parents — it is crititcal to remember the appropriate scientific and experiential evidence that can help people make the very best choices for their families’ lifestyle.
So, while I think it’s important to empathize with parents — it is crititcal to remember the appropriate scientific and experiential evidence that can help people make the very best choices for their families’ lifestyle.
I think the solution lies in a combination of education — so parents can make informed choices. And, a healthy amount of common sense in decision making that incorporates constant feedback from the child in question.
Related Articles: Dan Abrahams on SoccerToday