Raising Kids to Compete and Win
Easy answer: When you are both ready to dedicate yourselves to the practice and the travel times. This is something that you really have to decide since you are the one who will be responsible for the time, travel and expense. If you’re not willing to go “all in,” then it is not fair to your daughter to start.
Keep in mind, competition is competition – from backyard football games to traveling teams. I believe that there are only a few advantages for this high-level competition. First, your daughter is too good for the level she is at; second, it does give her a taste of high-level competition and the pressure that goes along with it. But very few 9-year-olds are ready for this physically or emotionally. If your daughter is too good for her age group, playing her in an older age group in a more relaxed environment is a better solution. I have found that the kids who stay on a lower level and learn the skills of the game and have fun, not only stay with the sport, but usually become the better players. As parents, we can easily get caught up with keeping up with the other parents who place their children in these positions. But you have to look at the end goal. Who cares who the star is on the nine-and-under team? Don’t get wrapped up in immediate success. What you should care about is that she develops a passion for the game and starts to shine when she is 14 or 15.
Peak Performance Coach
Until roughly around the age of the onset of puberty (ages 13-14), the top three goals for young athletes participating in sports should center around the Three F’s: fun, fundamentals and friends. While it is tricky when it feels like “everyone” is going over to play club soccer, and it causes a bit of “FOMO” (Fear Of Missing Out), the most important thing for this age range is to keep it fun. If she is curious about what she might learn at practice, if the coach is teaching her core fundamentals, if she gets to be with other girls who are also having fun and they are enjoying learning, this will be the greatest predictor of whether a child will stick with the sport or not.
Unfortunately, it only takes one overly intense coach or to be put into a situation where the child had different expectations about the level of intensity (i.e., AYSO was all about wearing silly socks and getting to have the popsicle after the game and this is much more about winning vs. losing and playing time isn’t guaranteed) for your daughter to be turned off of the sport forever. She is better off being on the field, getting more reps, than sitting on the bench of a higher level, more “competitive” team.
Of course, all of this being said, it really is an individual assessment which I would encourage you and your daughter to speak with the AYSO coach about before making any decisions. The coach will know if she is ready for the more intense format (i.e., more practices, traveling for games, etc.), because she will show that on the field; she’ll be one of the more focused players, who is asking for more feedback and is looking for ways to improve her game.
If she can articulate that to the coach and the coach agrees she’s ready for it, I’d encourage you to try out for SEVERAL clubs. Look at the different options and see which one(s) fit your family’s values. Things to consider include: practice venue, number of practices, length of practices, time of day of practice, how many tournaments the team will play in, coaching philosophy (does everyone play or is it earned playing time), is it OK to miss a practice or a tournament if your child plays another sport or has a family commitment and, last but definitely not least, cost. Cost includes not only the fees for joining the club and the uniforms but must factor in all the hotels, flights or car rides, plus food you’ll have to buy for away tournaments.