No soccer for Ian

I began this as a comment on Jeanne’s Homeschooling and Soccer post at her blog.  Then it got too long for a comment and I realized I would like to post it on my blog for more input.

My son (4) has loved balls since he could sit up and we spent a lot of time kicking a soccer ball around through his toddler years.  So last September I signed him up for soccer classes at the local fieldhouse, beginning in the 3 year old class even though he was about to turn 4 because he had only taken one parent-tot class before and that had been hard for my independently-minded son.  He LOVED the soccer class, followed along very well, and accomplished the tasks easily.  For the next session he moved up to the 4 year old class.  Where the 3 year old class had had a lot of not-just-soccer-related skill building, using hula hoops and other equipment, the 4 year old class was more focused on specific soccer skills.  It was still not competitive though; every child had his or her own ball.  He loved the class all through autumn and winter.

Ian at soccer class
Ian in his last soccer class in February

Then, at the end of February, two things happened.  The first was that the coach had the kids try a very brief “real” game.  He split up them up into two teams with four kids each and directed them to try to get the ONE ball into the correct net (using tiny nets and only playing in the middle of the field).  The game lasted maybe two minutes, but the whole time Ian was calling, “Kick it to me! Kick it to me!” and soon he just walked dejectedly off the field, crying.

Now he does not usually do that sort of thing.  He has always been the sort of kid who rarely cries when he gets hurt.  Even when he was a baby he didn’t want to nurse his owies away like his biggest sister.  After a quick hug, he wanted to get down and try again.  In all the soccer classes before this one, the only time he cried was on his first day, when class was over and we had to leave.

So his sisters and I hugged him and tried to encourage him to try again.  He started back out to the field two times but hesitated and came back to me.  Then the quick little practice game was over and it was time for their team cheer and goodbyes, and he did go back for that, but his enthusiasm did not return.

The following week was something else new: parent participation.  The kids’ families were invited to come out to the field and play.  Ian did not want to do it for a long time, though eventually he agreed to go out on the field with his sisters.  That was the last day of that 8 week session.  I guess I didn’t realize how strongly Ian was affected yet, because I went ahead and paid for the next 8 week session that day.

He has not been back to soccer class since.  The first day of the current session, he said he didn’t want to go and he was a little sick, so I didn’t push him to go.  I did call the fieldhouse to discuss make up possibilities though, because he would also be missing day 2 of this session, due to our trip to California.

When we got back from our week-long visit to California, it became clear to me that he was seriously changing his mind about soccer.  You have to realize how much of a passion soccer, and ball play in general, was to him, to understand.  When my daughters were his age, they were not taking any classes regularly and they flitted among various gym and dance classes.  Every time I asked Ian if he wanted to take another soccer class, his yes was always enthusiastic.  Until March.

When the opportunity for a make up class came after our return from California, Ian said he didn’t want to go.  I started asking him the day before, and his dad asked him when I wasn’t home, and then just an hour before class time I took him aside and tried to phrase it carefully.  I wasn’t sure whether he meant he didn’t want to right now, or never.  “Ian, do you ever want to go back to soccer class?”  “Nope.”  “Okay, so we won’t go to soccer class anymore.”  “Okay,” he said, nonchalantly and got down to go back to playing.

I was a little shocked, to be honest.  And I missed the class myself!  It was so much fun to watch.  But he has not mentioned the class or soccer since then.  I’ve casually mentioned our neglected soccer ball once or twice.  He hasn’t had much to say about it. I didn’t want to push him away from playing soccer by bugging him about it, so for the first couple of weeks, I made a point of not bringing it up.

I’ve been second guessing myself on this.  Should I have pushed a little to have him keep going?  The class was not going to become more competitive.  I asked the coach about that on our last day there.  And he did love it so much.  I could easily picture him playing soccer forever, he had such passion for it.

I believe strongly in kids having a big say in what they do (that’s a great reason to homeschool) so I would never regret letting him stop.  (I only regret paying for the current session; I’m having a hard time getting a refund.)  But if he has a talent for something physical, is it better to to develop it sooner than later?  I know, he’s so young.  Typing it out makes my concern seem less reasonable.  Of course, he has plenty of time to get back into it if he chooses.

In fact, it hasn’t even been that long since he stopped and just now I asked him if he might like to go play soccer again.  I had to try a few times before he would answer me because he is currently engrossed in Roblox, a computer game.  But finally he said, “I want to go to soccer class soon.”



  1. Sigh. Youth sports is so full of potential pitfalls, and parenting so full of second-guessing.

    Four IS really young, and Ian might yet change his mind. If you suspect he’ll have that same “left out” feeling if the coach introduces games, you could opt to keep playing with him at home for a few years. It sounds like the particular program he was in is already unusually kid-centered; when Nick started as a four year old, there were definitely games involved, and we were light years behind today’s thought that a kid needs to touch a ball throughout practice (which I admit is a philosophy you still don’t find everywhere – or if it’s present, it’s not necessarily well-executed by volunteers who are stretching themselves into soccer coaches).

    Will you be able to check out whether they will use the same approach again? Sounds like it was probably quite a shock to Ian, after all those classes where he had a ball of his own. When you’re four, it’s just BORING to be the one without the ball!

    I do get a chuckle out of the memory of Nick being similarly obsessed by balls. However, he attended much older brothers’ games from birth, and he may have been more aware than Ian was that this was eventually going to lead to one ball to be chased by everyone.

    For what it’s worth, one soccer mom to another, it seems to me that the kids who do well and stay in soccer into their teen years are the ones who play a lot of informal soccer at home, on the beach, and in the park. I’ve seen 7 and 8 year olds who have never played come to organized soccer and be just as good as kids who have been playing in their local soccer organization since they were 4. But I’ve seen 5 and 6 year olds who play around with mom and dad and THEIR friends – who really COME to organized soccer with some skills at 7 or 8. Regardless, there seems to be another huge skill-building window between 8 and 10, but it only works if they’re having fun.

    Another big window comes for 10 to 12 year olds, and it seems like if they don’t really improve then, they will drop out in middle school, when it becomes much more a sport rather than an “activity” for most kids. Then in middle school we see this burst of strength and power that gives those who stay new possibilities with those skills — look OUT! Despite occasionally being nailed by errant balls, I’d rather see that energy channeled onto the field than in some other direction.

    Maybe you could take Ian to see a very short bit of a friend’s game or a high school game if he hasn’t had the chance – sort of on your way to something else fun and with his own little size 2 ball for the sidelines. Nick had a size 2 ball with him constantly at that age, and was up and down the sidelines with his ball (plus one for a friend, just in case).

    You’ll feel your way through it, and he’ll let you know. We coax sometimes, we push sometimes, we relax sometimes. Like in the game, if we get too far out in front of our kids, we’re “offsides,” I guess. Sounds like you handled it well and will keep the opportunity possible for Ian.

    Because we’ve moved a lot and had three soccer-playing sons, we’ve had a wide variety of experiences with organized (and not organized) youth soccer. Caveat emptor – and put it in the net!


  2. Thank you Jeanne. The fieldhouse sends me occasional emails informing me of games and I have thought about taking him. Good idea.


  3. When Ben was the same age, he was all about tennis. Then one day he decided he wanted nothing to do with tennis. I went through the same angst as you are going through now when I decided to let tennis lessons drop. Now, at nearly 10, he’s taken up tennis again and is loving it. His coach tells me that he’s doing well. I’m a firm believer in not pushing very young kids and 4 is very young.

    Now, I find that I have to push Ben a bit because his natural inclination is to sit with his computer. A local friend’s son didn’t start playing some sports till high school and ended up as MVP in two sports at his school.


  4. Hello Michele, I came to your site through Jeanne’s … and I have a homeschooled 5 year old who enjoys soccer too, but we’ve had stop-start issues, in his case he just wanted to kick the ball around and didn’t like the games and activities that were made up by the soccer for tots teachers (this was when he was 4). Note: I never got a refund for my pre-paid classes. Then he turned 5 and we have joined the local soccer club, with you know, proper soccer shoes, shin guards, little teams, playing on 4 big fields under the floodlights … and so far it’s going well, though at the third practice he said he didn’t want to go (and later from a comment he made, it was because I mentioned he would be getting his team shirt that day – kids, you never know what it’s going to be that turns them off). But I guess I just wanted to say, like you we didn’t push it at 4, and he’s happily come back to it.


  5. Oh sorry, forgot to mention, my sister-in-law who also homeschools says she holds her breath when she goes to her boy’s soccer practice (he’s only started) to see if he wants to go back next time, even when he seems to have enjoyed himself. I think it is very common amongst homeschool parents to have this sort of anxiety – because we are often so strong on not pushing our kids to do things they don’t want to, yet we know they will probably enjoy themselves if they did it in some cases.


  6. Thank you for sharing your experience Chenebe. Ian tried soccer very briefly again in January, wanted to quit again, we were told no more refunds, and Ian has barely mentioned soccer since. He has spent a few months at preschool gymnastics though.


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