Why children want to play soccer

If you want to keep your children motivated, interested and wanting to learn you must first understand why they wanted to play soccer in the first place.

Some textbooks suggest that the main reason that children want to play soccer is to learn so-called ‘socialisation skills’ – how to work together in a group, achieve group goals, (e.g. to win as a soccer team), learn sportsmanship and how to deal with success and failure.

Certainly, learning to work together in a group and striving to achieve group goals are potentially important to our children. Learning about and practicing sportsmanship is also a worthwhile goal, as is understanding how to deal with success and failure – winning and losing.

But is this what our children expect to get out of our soccer practices and games?

Actually, NO!

Numerous research studies over the last 20 years have asked children why they decided to participate in organised sports. Although there is some variation in the ranked order of the reasons that children give, (depending on the particular sport they are playing), the top reasons are very consistent:

Children play soccer because they:
1. Expect to have FUN,
2. Learn SKILLS,
3. Develop FITNESS,
4. And because they enjoy COMPETITION

This last point is interesting because many ‘authorities’ suggest that competition in youth sports is a ‘bad thing’.

In NO CONTEST: The Case Against Competition, for example, author Alfie Kohn insists that competition in sports should be avoided at all costs. Kohn goes on to say that “children, especially, are motivated to see what’s enjoyable about an activity.” Nothing, he says, encourages excellence as much as finding a task fun. Artificial incentives such as trophies, gold stars, and (presumably) the results of assessments can kill what is known as “intrinsic motivation” or internal rewards.

Others, (myself included), believe that competition is good for children if appropriate feedback is provided and equal weight given to the importance of values such as sportsmanship and fair play. In fact, competition teaches young people not only to cope with sport, but also helps them to deal with the inevitable ups and downs of life itself.

The studies also reveal that socialisation related reasons are typically near the bottom of the list of reasons children give for playing soccer while sportsmanship comes somewhere in the middle.

It may be a surprise to learn that winning and receiving awards (medals, trophies, etc) do not appear at all among the main reasons.

It would appear that most children want to play soccer so that they can participate in competitive sport (but not necessarily win) and to develop the skills and fitness that will allow them to play and compete as effectively as possible.

We can be sure, however, that all children play soccer because they want to have fun.