By: Neil McNab, Executive Director, Rush Union
As parents, we want to help our children find activities—often sports—for which they have great interest. We are passionate about it. And once our children discover a passion for something, parents often go into high gear, investing time, energy, and money into that discovery. It’s easy to get caught up.
The studies on early sport specialization have been prevalently publicized over the last several years. Some disadvantages of specializing at a young age have been highlighted; and yet as soon as our child tells us they like something or want to try a new activity, we immediately sign them up for year-round camps, clinics, season play, private lessons, you name it. Good. Better. Best. Next level. Youth sports have become masterful marketing machines and with that can come the realization that we might be pushing our children too soon to commit to one thing.
Many sports offer year-round options now, beginning as young as 6 years old. Options for our kids are important. And some—a few, like Olympians—like that singular focus and thrive, even at a tender single-digit age. Most will do better having exposure to multiple options. And when we stand back, soak it all in, it’s good to be committed to a program, but equally as important to say no if that’s the better route.
My daughter recently expressed an interest in playing soccer over the winter months—the “off-season”. This was something we had never invested in before as a family. How much did we want to invest in a year-round activity when that would mean missing out on full-family time? Fortunately, Rush Union offers a program that is “customized” to parents’ and athletes’ off-season tolerances. Short programs, a la carte clinics, and pay-as-you-go programs came to the table based on feedback received by our members. In my personal case, we selected a five-week program with practices and no game play. It was a good balance. My daughter and my family enjoyed our winter.
As a family we often travel over the summer on vacation or enroll our children in other summer camps like County Kids Camp, which is an outdoor camp that focuses on good old fashion outdoor activities like playing in the mud, and rope swings into the lake. So, summer soccer leagues may not be on the horizon for us, but a weeklong soccer camp will likely be worked in somewhere this July.
If you are unsure what do to with your child’s sporting experience, there are people you can turn to for perspective, starting with your athlete. Simply ask them what they would like to do with their time. Their passion for a sport will certainly grow if your child gets to be in the driving seat of their own experience. There are also parenting groups, such as Soccer Parenting Association, that provide parents with great guidance and options. League organizers and coaches can also offer advice.
If your child has not found their passion yet, you do not need to heavily invest in time or finances to discover where it may lie. Many children’s interests change over time. My oldest son is nearly 12 and has not settled on any one thing that genuinely piques his interest, so we encourage him to experiment with lots of activities as he goes on his journey of self-discovery. And it may be that he doesn’t want to do just one thing.
More about Neil:
Neil played through the Manchester City youth system from 1994-98. Moved to Portsmouth F.C. in the summer of 1998 and turned professional at Portsmouth in November 1998 where he played until 2001.
In April 2001 Neil moved to the USA and during a 4 year span played professionally for the Utah Blittz, Long Island Rough Riders, Syracuse Salty Dogs and the Wilmington Hammerheads until winter 2004. Neil was part of two USL National Championship teams with the Utah Blitzz, and Long Island Rough Riders respectively.
Neil coached at various youth programs throughout the U.S. from 2001-2004. In the winter of 2004 Neil started coaching for TYSA (Tucker Youth Soccer Association) where he became Assistant Director of coaching in 2005-2008.
Neil joined CFC in June 2008 where he served as Executive Director for Chiefs Futbol Club. In the summer of 2020, Chiefs FC and Georgia Rush merged to form Rush Union Soccer, where Neil currently serves as Executive Director.
Neil holds the USSF A, UEFA C coaching licenses, the NSCAA Director of Coaching Diploma, and the USSF Grassroots Instructor License.
*Note this article first appeared in the March 2022 Our Milton Neighbor publication and consent to redistribute was provided by the author*