Soccer (outside US called football) is a very popular sport that itis almost a right of passage it’s prevalent in all countries andplayed across almost all age groups. Youth sports in general, isincreasingly becoming more competitive, some parents and coachesperceive it as an easy way for their kids to excel and getscholarships for colleges and or, shine and identified by eliteleagues. In all this, good environment and support for the youngathletes is essential and, must be given regardless of the skillslevels of the young athlete. Soccer thus, needs to be perceived inperspective with the overall development of the young participants(Kerth, T.R.1997.p46)
I will take a critical look at a youth soccer tournament. Thetournament visited is called the Mad River under 17 Youth Soccer. Thetournament takes place in Arcata, California and accepts teamsregistered with California Youth Soccer Association (CYSA), CalNorth, or any youth soccer club affiliates from Nevada, Oregon orfrom other states. It takes place every first week of May.
In the material day, the local under 14 team Mad River boys under 14was playing against the under 14 Fortuna boys team. The Mad Riveryoung boys used home ground advantage to earn a hard fought 1- 0 win.The tough fought win ensured their overall win of the seven teamround robin tournament.
Spectators’ zone consisted mostly of parents and guardians who wereencouraging their young players to win and excel.
The young players, I gathered were already specializing to playsoccer. This in my opinion is not right. The players were submittedto a high level of practice and preparation before the main game. Theyoungsters must be allowed to have fun in sports and not the rigorsof competitive sports which erodes the fun in the sport (playingtime- is an important element in developmental stage of a person).This, in my view also increases the risk of repetitive motioninjuries and exerts too much pressure on the players. Even thoughproponents of early specialization argue that it assists the youngplayers to reach elite level faster. (H, Robin. 1996. p16) Shouldnote that everyone can play but not everyone is destined to be anelite player.
This rigorous competition as witnessed can make the young athletes to‘wear out’ at around age 17/18, ripe time for starting elitecareers. (H, Robin. 1996. p16) By the time the youngsters who areplaying at such competitive level (like the Mad River tournament) atan early age reach university, they could have played cumulativelyfor a long time. When they are expected to become serious and evenjoin elite levels they will most definitely have ‘burned out’.
Good communication mechanism between the parents and their children,and the coaches is essential and advised. An assessment of what theplayers feel and want must be conducted so as to get a feel of whatthe youngsters really want and to cater for them effectively.
Soccer which involves hundreds of individual decisions by the playersenhances parts of the brain involved in decision making (B,Richard.1996.p17 ).But being a contact sport, on the other hand toomuch playing like the one witnessed increases the risk of injuries.Too much running and hitting of the feet and legs at such an earlyage has been identified as a risk factor of stress fractures andstunting of the growth of bones(American Orthopedic Society forSports Medicine Report, 2009.p2)I also witnessed a lot of heading ofthe ball by the young players. Cumulative effects of heading by youngplayers has been studied and found to cause damage to young players.(Kerth, T.R. 1997.p47)
The intense teaching and expectations by the coaches that I witnessedwere beyond the ability and comprehension of some of the youngplayers. One coach was so distraught with the performance of a lesstalented team member that he demeaned the member. This focusing onwinning at whatever cost showed lack of sportsmanship and exertedunnecessary pressure on the young players. This psychological andphysical pressure can definitely take its toll on the young players.
Coaches should develop a positive attitude, be patient, dependableand have a sense of humor. They should also know that they are rolemodels shaping the perspective of the young players. This winning atall costs attitude should be discarded as it is detrimental to theoverall well-being of the players.
Pressurizing the players can push them to perform beyond theircapacities increasing the potential for injury. Injuries can includecollisions with other team players, falling to the ground or hittingthe goalposts repetitive knees and ankles strain injuriesconcussion from hitting the ball with the head, collusions with otherplayers and falling down. (American Orthopedic Society for SportsMedicine Report, 2009.p2)
Coaches and tournament organizers must take extra caution to helpreduce the risks of injuries.
When a youngster participates in a sport his relationship with thecoach is crucial and so does the parent. Parents must support thekids in the learning process. They must discipline and motivate theplayers by not interfering with the game, provide the requiredequipments for the sport and handle disagreements maturely. Whenparents support the coaches they help the kids learn (Kerth, T.R.1997.p46)
Some young sports men were seen to have discipline and behavioralproblems this can easily be dealt with through positivereinforcement. The players’ self –esteem could be raised andconsequently their behavior and performance positively changed.
Overall, the young player’s needs and best interest must beconsidered and fully catered for during competitions and in sports ingeneral.
H, Robin. (1996). Christian Science Monitor Vol.88.Issue 236,p16
B, Richard. (1996). Christian Science Monitor Vol 88.Issue236.p17
Kerth, T., R. (1997). Coach and Athletic Director September1997, Vol.66.Issue 2,
American Orthopedic Society for Sports Medicine Report, (2009). p2-5