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Competitive Soccer: What Should You Realistically Expect?

Soccer registration is starting and many parents will have the option of having their son/daughter play competitive soccer this upcoming summer.

In the last 14 years of refereeing, I've seen the major differences between house league and competitive soccer and I'm here today to shed some light on the major differences in order to help you, mom and/or dad, to decide whether competitive soccer is right for your child.

The biggest change between competitive soccer and house league will be travelling time. Half the games are played at home and half the games are played away. This can mean an away game in the city next door, or much further away such as Trois-Lacs, Ile Bizarre and Hudson/St-Lazare for example (if you live in the island of Montreal). This can translate into an hour of commuting, especially if the game is scheduled for 6:30pm on a weekday.

The second biggest change is the commitment that your child will have to the team. You will be looking at a minimum of 2 practices as well as 1 to 2 games per week. It's a minimum of 3 days a week between the weeks of May to September. This does not include the tournaments (usually between 2 to 4) that are usually held throughout an entire weekend.

The third biggest change is (unfortunately) the amount of pressure that players will feel during games. This added pressure, simply because the child is playing "competitive soccer", does not benefit players in any way and is often more detrimental to their progress than anything else. This pressure is a combination of two main things:

1- Being a competitive team that practices multiple times a week and results are expected by coaches (and often parents as well).

2- Commuting back and forth to games adds a pressure in the form of "We came this far to play, we really don't want to lose!" - translating into a lot of screaming and yelling from the sidelines.

This "pressure" that I am talking about comes from mostly from outside sources, not so much from within, and can be mainly attributed to one main factor: YELLING.

The fourth biggest change is "yelling". It should technically fall into the "pressure" category but I decided to give it a category of its own because it is so detrimental to a player's development. Throughout my 15 year career as a head referee and as a coach, I can say that I've probably heard it all. From parents booing the other team when they have possession of the ball to a coach yelling to his team: "THAT PLAYER SUCKS! GO TAKE THE BALL AWAY FROM HIM!".

People may call it whatever they want: voicing out their emotions, encouraging his son/daughter or directing their players/kids on the field. Despite having your child on a team or being the coach of a team, this does not justify the amount of yelling on the sidelines. Cheering is one thing, but trying to direct every single player who has the ball or not is not. One of the most crucial and probably most difficult aspect of playing soccer at a younger age is decision making. It takes thousands of hours of playing and experimenting on the field to be able to process all the information in front of you (or sometimes even behind) and make the right decision. What coaches and parents are doing on the sidelines is impeding this natural process of natural decision making by yelling: "PASS!", "KICK!", "KICK IT OUT!", "GO ON HIM!", "DRIBBLE!", etc.

Players are not learning to play soccer, instead they are learning to follow really loud voices from the sidelines. The mistakes that they are making on the field can even be justified as not one of their own because:"Hey, I was just following the orders from the sidelines and my coach told me to pass, I did, and the other team intercepted it and scored...".

So yes, there are pros and cons to playing competitive soccer. In one hand your child is playing much and practicing much more during the summer, the teams are usually followed to a certain extent by the technical director of the club, it is usually more structured and players and parents feel like they are part of a new family (because of the time you will be spending together travelling and going to tournaments!). On the other hand, travelling time will be much more demanding, there will be more pressure on the players to perform, they may or may not get equal playing time (even if they all should!) and they will exposed to a much greater level of yelling on the sidelines than just playing house league soccer.

Hope this article gave you a little insight on the world of youth competitive soccer and feel free to contact me if you ever need more guidance towards making the right decision for your child.

Thank you for reading,

Mike Zarmati

Montreal Soccer Coach

(514) 966-3943

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