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Lessons from Four & under soccer

April 5, 2009

Today was my 4 yeard-old son’s first soccer game and it was a fascinating experience. It was 3-on-3 because the other team didn’t have enough players… so not quite the herding cats meets rugby scrum I’ve heard about from so many other parents. And he did well… he scored two goals and saved a few others. But what was really fascinating was his reaction to the “game” environment. He was very – very – frustrated because one of the other boys (on his team) kept taking the ball from him and scoring. My son wanted “his turn.”

In all fairness, I should point out that it’s not like 4 year-olds are playing as a team. It was pretty much a race for the ball. Whoever could get a foot on it would kick it somewhere.  So the other boy wasn’t doing anything wrong. But of the players there, 3 had done this before and were pretty good – including this boy. They had a controlled dribble and were able to direct the ball through traffic. My son has had two practices and now this game… so he’s just learning the basics.

But my son has never been in a competitive environment before. Pre-school and play dates and Little Gym are all protected environments where each child has “their turn.” If there was a conflict, a teacher or parent was always nearby to put an end to it. He’s never had to deal with an environment where being aggressive was acceptable – even required. He thought the other players should back away while he had his turn to score… and he would do the same for them.

To an extent, this has already been a valuable learning experience for him. But it certainly raises the question – do we over protect our children? Would our kids be better off if we let them be a little more aggressive with each other before we stepped in? Life isn’t fair and everyone doesn’t get their “turn.”

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