by Jon Worley
Our sons love playing sports. They're good at most of them. Our younger son Sam is often dominant--his slugging percentage in baseball is somewhere around 1.750 (most of his hits are doubles or homers, with the occasional single thrown in)--but his older brother more than holds his own as well.
For a long time, Max was that dogged and determined kid on the soccer field. The one who occasionally made a great play, but more often was simply steady and solid. Last fall, he played in a fifth-grade select league as a fourth grader. And he did well. That team disbanded, and he found a spot on a fourth-grade select team as a half-time goalie.
Max is 10, and he's less than an inch shy of five feet. His reflexes are stunning. His balance is amazing. And he has almost no coordination. So he can save point-blank shots with astounding dives, and he can tumble head-over-heels simply trying to pick the ball up off the field. But he was the consensus best goalie in his league this spring, which means he's probably one of the 100 best 10-year-old goalies in the county. This is a county of a million people and almost 150,000 school-aged kids, so top-100 is not too bad.
During the last three weeks or so, teams have e-mailed us hoping to poach Max for higher-level competition. We're not talking the sort of recruitment that football and basketball players get from colleges, but persistent requests nonetheless. It's flattering, but it's also disconcerting. Our kids play sports because they like to play sports. Max would like to play soccer in high school, which is a reasonable if not necessarily reachable goal. But he often says that the only scholarship he's likely to get for college is academic. He's right. And that's fine.
But he's 10 now, and people are clamoring (or something a bit less intense than that) for his skills. This is more than a little insane. When does this stuff stop? And what happens when it does?
We've already had parents joke about Sam's impending offers from colleges. He's a dominant athlete at age 7, but that's mostly because he plays against 10-year-olds all the time. He may develop into an actual athlete, or he may not. And with competitive soccer cranking up in earnest in the third grade, we might be hearing from folks about Sam sooner than we'd like.
The key for us is to keep things in perspective. I'm not worried about Max's development as a soccer player. I am concerned about his development as a person, and sports have a strong role in that. I want him to enjoy playing--he's plenty competitive without my help--and that's about it.
So Max will be staying put next fall. He likes his team, and he had fun playing this spring. And that's all I need to know.
And if I get a call about Sam, I'll put them on hold. For a couple of years. Even if kids games have become big business, my kids will play because they enjoy the games. And when they don't enjoy them, they won't. Simple as that.
At least until the D.C. United youth development squad comes calling. . .
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