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Youth Soccer: Is It the Right Sport For My Child?

Popular But Competitive

Soccer has become one of the most popular youth sports in recent years, but with popularity has come more competition:

  • the number of youth soccer teams in the United States has increased by about 90 percent since 1990, to almost 3.1 million players.1 

  • the number of high school players has more than doubled to 730,106 athletes since 1990, the fastest growth rate of any major sport.2

  • The number of women's collegiate teams has gone up 115 percent since 1994 (the year the U.S. hosted the World Cupb), with the number of men's teams rising 27.6 percent over the same period.3
It is easy to understand why soccer is more popular than ever as a youth sport, as it offers a lot of advantages for kids:

Pros:

1. Easy to learn

  • Players learn best by playing

2.  Inclusive

  • Gender neutral: played by both boys and girls in equal numbers

  • Abundant programs

  • Accommodates players with different athletic abilities and skills

3.  Provides good exercise

  • Nearly non-stop running by everyone but goalie
  • Develops aerobic fitness, balance and leg strength

4.   Is relatively safe (as compared to other popular youth sports, like football and basketball)

5.   Teaches teamwork & mental focus

6.   Is relatively inexpensive (shoes & equipment costs are relatively low)

7.   Can be played year-round (which can also be a negative, because year-round play can lead to overuse injuries); and

8.  Can be played as an adult

Cons:

Ironically, some of the reasons youth soccer is a good choice for your child can also be drawbacks:

1.  Popularity leads to:

  • Intense competition for roster spots on competitive, travel teams even at early age.

2.  Politics can rear its ugly head because team selection and playing time are based on subjective factors.

3.  Tension between recreational and competitive (i.e. "travel") soccer can create problems:

  • Overemphasizing the everyone-can-play recreational soccer approach may force more skilled players to look outside of local community for more competitive teams and leagues, isolating such players from their peers.
  • Overemphasizing the only-the-best-can play travel soccer approach may deprive less-skilled players of a chance to ever play competitive soccer even if they are late bloomers who catch up with or pass their peers in terms of ability because of the residual bias enjoyed by early bloomers.

1. United States Soccer Federation

2. Sporting Goods Manufacturers Association

3.  National Collegiate Athletic Association

Updated September 19, 2010

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