I’ve seen some crazy stuff in youth sports over the past 17 years, since my oldest son began playing t-ball. For that matter, I’ve seen some craziest stuff that I’ve ever seen in youth sports over the past week with my youngest son and his team’s baseball season. Yeah, it can be absolutely nuts out there.
One of the best coaches I know works in the youth soccer world, and with his team prepping for a big out of town tournament, he sent an email out to players’ families, and when he shared that message with me, I knew it was something we needed to put in this space. For those who aren’t connected to the soccer world, you can substitute just about any sport instead (baseball/softball, basketball and volleyball come to mind immediately), and the message still works well.
I’ve not talked a lot about the Dallas tournament because I didn’t want to distract the team from the goals we set at the start of the season for the State tournament and the league. And with this Dallas tournament being between seasons essentially, I didn’t want to talk about it until I knew more about what the roster would look like.
The Dallas tournament is a unique event that my teams don’t normally do because:
1. You have to be accepted, so not just anyone can enter.
2. It’s a bigger investment of time and money (travel + almost a week long event + more games etc.)
3. It’s between seasons. We have to commit to the tournament way before tryouts, but the tournament is after tryouts.
I decided to do it with this group, because the potential, chemistry and commitment of the team is very high, this is a special team.
However, there is a huge risk in taking this team, and the risk is we could lose our way on this youth soccer journey.
The tournament is full of teams and coaches who have the “soccer fever”. It’s full of teams that train 4 times a week and travel around the country to multiple big tournaments like this event each season. It’s full of parents who think that their kids will sign big professional contracts soon. It’s full of coaches that I believe have lost perspective on what is really important on the youth sports journey and have become totally focused on immediate results.
In Homer’s Odyssey, Odysseus (the main character) is on a long journey home, where he encounters many obstacles along the way. He was warned that he needed to be careful when they passed by the Sirens, who were creatures that were half bird and half woman, who lured sailors to destruction by the sweetness of their song. Odysseus was advised by the sorceress Circe on how to escape the danger of their song by stopping the ears of his crew with wax so that they were deaf to the Sirens. But Odysseus himself wanted to hear their song, so he had his crew tie him to the mast so that he would not be able to steer the ship off its course, but could still hear the song.
When the song started, Odysseus lost his mind, like every other sailor who passed that way. He became obsessed with the song when it offered to show him the future – he just couldn’t resist this allure. And had he not entrusted himself to his faithful crew to tie him down, he would have shipwrecked all of them.
We all like to think we are very reasonable and down-to-earth parents, as do all of us coaches. We all like to think we would never lose our healthy perspective, but it’s easy to get sucked into the soccer fever. Especially, when the song starts to give us an idea of what the future could hold.
Every team has different “pits” that players/parents can fall into. These could be represented as different mentalities: The Consumer, The Pacifist, or The Obsessor. The Consumer mentality is always looking for the next soccer “flavor of the month” (i.e., falling for marketing strategies and therefore changing teams all the time.) Not the issue for our team. The Pacifist is checked out and doesn’t engage in the journey with their kids (for sure not the issue for our team). No, this team falls into the third category.
Don’t feel bad that I’m calling y’all obsessed. Every team that wins a lot needs to be careful of this trap. The soccer-obsessed team is at risk of falling into the trap of the soccer-sirens. And the answer is NOT to check out and stop engaging in the journey with our kids. We actually need to lean in and simply remember what our original intentions were at the start.
Odysseus’ journey was long, he was trying to get home for 10 years. When you take a long journey, it’s easy to lose your way. It’s easy to forget why we even started our journey, because the journey becomes a way of life. The soccer journey is also long and this is why people forget why they started. For many of these kids, they started around age 8 playing competitive soccer and they will hopefully play until 18 with our team, before potentially starting a new journey for college (or professional). If things go as planned, we will be doing this for 8+ years.
The mindset of a multi-year journey is obviously much different than a 6 day or even 6 month journey. Most of the kids who are the most intense and committed at 8, 9, 10, don’t make it all the way to 18. The pace is just insane for those with the soccer fever. Finding the right pace is so key in any long distance race and it’s especially true for us on our soccer journey. We need to find our own pace and not compare ourselves with others.
So why do kids burn out?
Burnout happens to everyone. Kids on the top, middle and bottom burn out, so the core issue is not always because the player is too intense. The less talented and less committed kids quit because they stop making progress and therefore stop having fun (other reasons too, but mostly this).
The best kids usually burn out when they get shipwrecked by the “sirens”. This is the need to keep listening to the song…the need to keep the song going… which makes them work so hard that they kill all the joy of the game. And they also stop making meaningful progress.
For those that struggle with being obsessed on the soccer journey, there are two options to survive the sirens:
1. To plug your ears with wax like Odysseus’ men did – by choosing to be oblivious of all that is going on in the soccer world (ignorance is bliss.)
2. To tie yourself to the mast of the ship like Odysseus did – by entrusting yourself to faithful friends who will hold you down – I mean – hold you accountable – to your intentions.
These two strategies are important to keep in mind, if you want to survive the journey home. 🙂
Looking forward to a great soccer-family trip! Let’s have fun and enjoy it with the kids. 🙂