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The Biggest Problems In Youth Soccer

Bigfoot, Aliens And Youth Soccer

07/18/2012, 12:27pm EDT
By H.B. Mertz

In Search Of Imagination

If I asked you to name the two biggest problems in youth soccer - excluding the parents who email you their expert analysis of lineups and playing time - what would you say?

Our Brian Roberts is writing a new curriculum for Chicago Fire Camps and Training, and he chooses these two:

1) Players are not given enough free play.

2) Players do not use their imagination.  

Why aren't we giving kids more freedom to use their imagination in soccer? Is it possible that parents and coaches have forgotten how kids think?  

When I was a kid in the 70's, a TV show called In Search Of captured my imagination. It was sort of a 60 Minutes for weirdos, hosted by Star Trek's Leonard Nimoy, investigating the great mysteries of mankind every Saturday afternoon. Dr. Spock explored new frontiers in my young mind, taking me to places like Easter Island, Loch Ness, and The Bermuda Triangle. 

In Search Of was canceled after Season Six. The producers had run low on edgy "phenomena" and Spock was narrating B-listers like the Lost Roanoke Colony. But I never held that against him. He had me at Stonehenge.     

Have I forgotten what it was like to be that kid? 

In middle age now, my four kids - three of them teenage boys - have pretty much sucked the imagination right out of me, like the UFO Captives in Season Three. I use the phrase "when I was your age" around the house all the time, but I routinely forget how I actually thought when I was their age.            

My wife and I still laugh about the time that we took our nine-year-old son to see a child psychologist, suspecting that he suffered from some type of anxiety disorder. We wrung our hands and speculated about all the possible adult causes for his behavior, only to have a professional tell us - in a serious clinical tone - that our son was suffering from a profound fear of Bigfoot and Aliens. 

Bigfoot and aliens??? How did I miss that?! That was Season One!  

Ten years later, my wife and I still laugh about the disconnect. Like his father before him, my son was living deep inside his imagination. His mother and I, however, were stuck in the world of adults, ignoring the possibility and the power of his imagination. 

Brian Roberts believes that we are making the same mistake in youth soccer.  He thinks the root causes of player burnout and dropout - known as "killing players" - are the lack of freedom and imagination in youth soccer curricula and training. The solution, Roberts says, is to acknowledge how kids think, and to engage their powerful imaginations in a guided discovery of skill and situational poise. 

What do YOU think, soccer mom, dad, coach or board member? 

Does your youth soccer curriculum capture young imaginations? Or are you stuck in the rut of drills, more drills, and perfect-practice-makes-perfect? 

Leave us your comments, and join us as we go in search of imagination in youth soccer. 

H.B. Mertz has four kids and three Pittsburgh-based small businesses, including YESsoccer. Contact him at mertz.h@youthelitesoccer.com. Follow him on Twitter: @YESPres

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