On any given Saturday, the local parks are teeming with kids playing soccer and parents encouraging them to be more aggressive—with some children being more successful than others. You see it especially in younger players: those “daisy pickers” who hang around in the backfield chatting with teammates or staring off into another dimension as an exciting game goes on around them. You’ve probably also seen their parents standing on the sidelines, clawing their eyes out and begging their kid to “get in the game.”
Agreed, it’s totally frustrating. Parents spend a lot of money and time on soccer, so it’s a natural inclination to want your child to succeed and win. But is having a child who’s a lollygagger really something to worry about? Only if the kid isn’t having a good time. It’s always worth it to check in occasionally and make sure your child is enjoying their chosen sport—because if they aren’t, stop wasting their time and yours.
However, if they are enjoying themselves, and still refuse to “get aggressive” on the field, then there may be some questions to ask yourself. Let’s start with looking at the age of the child. Playing competitively isn’t necessarily a talent most people are born with. Younger children (especially those between six and eight) may not be developmentally ready, while others simply haven’t learned how to be competitive. In fact, to them it might even seem counterintuitive. Think about what you’ve been telling them their entire lives: “Don’t be so rough!” “Don’t steal!” “Stop and think before you act!” Yet that’s exactly what we’re suddenly asking them to do on the field—to get in there and engage with other players, take the ball, and to do it spontaneously. No wonder they don’t take to it immediately.
Another question to ask yourself is, “Am I bringing my own baggage into this situation?” Is part of your frustration springing from the hard work you’ve done to be a more competitive, assertive person? It’s great to want them to succeed like you did—but you also didn’t get there overnight. Trust that they’ll get there eventually, just like you did. Yelling and shaming from the sidelines will probably have the opposite effect. Just like adults, kids can get nervous before a game, and correcting them loudly in front of their teammates could be inspiring them to focus on failure, rather than engaging in a fun way with their opponent.
So what can you do? One, trust your kid’s coach. They have specific drills to pull your kid out of her shell and become more competitive. Secondly, and just as important, get out the ball and play with your child. Talk about the difference between slugging her sister and engaging physically in a safe way with someone on the field. Let her bump you out of the way and steal the ball—in a controlled manner. Congratulate them on what they’re doing right, and gently encourage them to play smart—which, yes, sometimes means holding back and being patient. That’s engagement, too.
Lastly, be patient. Learning to engage and feel comfortable while playing sports is a muscle that needs to be developed—and it takes time. Many children who were originally picking daisies often bloom into some of the better players on the team if given enough time and the right type of encouragement. So stop worrying—your kid will get there. And she may even have a lot more fun along the way.