Single-Digit Soccer: Your kid will never be a pro

ER doctor Louis Profeta of Indianapolis — ironically, the home of several elite sports organizations — takes revenge on all the parents with whacked-out priorities with a fun, occasionally profane column spelling things out in simplest terms: Your kid and my kid are not playing in the pros.

I’ll lay you two to one odds right now and I don’t even know your kid, I have never even see them play, but I’ll put up my pension that your kid is not playing in the pros. It is simply an odds thing. There are far too many variables working against your child. Injury, burnout, others who are better, – these things are are just a fraction of the barriers preventing your child from becoming “the one.”

The stories of misplaced priorities from his ER are frightening. Parents who are fretting about their starting linebacker being out of the game when their kid was knocked unconscious. Parents asking if a kid with a swollen spleen can just get some extra padding and play. Most disturbing of all — a kid who was roaring drunk, smashed a car and “needs” to get out of the ER before the cops come and fill out a report that will get her kicked off the swim team.

The column raises a couple of questions, and I’m not sure they’re related:

1. Are we supposed to aspire to pro sports careers?

That’s what we hear from women’s soccer players from time to time — we need a pro league so players will have something to which they can aspire.

And in soccer, we’re setting up a massive youth soccer machine to produce pro prospects and national team players. We’re supposed to funnel our best talent to better clubs in better leagues. They all need pro coaches from age 9 upward.

So in soccer, should we expect any backlash when someone pours cold water on the notion of making sacrifices with the goal of a pro career? Or a college scholarship?

2. Are that many parents and players really motivated by the prospect of going pro?

Profeta takes his argument well beyond deflating delusions of professional riches.

It’s because, just like everyone else, we are afraid. We are afraid that Emma will make the cheerleading squad instead of Suzy and that Mitch will start at first base instead of my Dillon. But it doesn’t stop here. You see, if Mitch starts instead of Dillon then Dillon will feel like a failure, and if Dillon feels like a failure then he will sulk and cower in his room, and he will lose his friends because all his friends are on the baseball team too, and if he loses his friends then he will start dressing in Goth duds and pierce his testicle and start using drugs, and listening to head banging music with his door locked. Then, of course, it’s just a matter of time until he’s surfing the net for neo-Nazi memorabilia, visiting gun shows and then opening fire in the school cafeteria. That is why so many fathers who bring their injured sons to the ER are so afraid that they won’t be able to practice this week, or that he may miss the game this weekend. Miss a game, you become a mass murderer – it’s that simple.

Suzy surely isn’t a cheerleader because she wants to go “pro.” In these cases, the kids and (maybe especially) their parents are worried about losing their sense of self if they’re not on the team.

The brilliance of the TV version of Friday Night Lights is that it wasn’t about football. It was about identity. “So what’s it like being the guy who used to be Tim Riggins?” one girl asks of the fullback who returns to town after deciding a week or two of college football (specifically the “college” part) was enough. The star quarterback adapts to life in a wheelchair. A sensitive artist is thrust into the spotlight as the new quarterback. The cheerleader becomes an outcast after sleeping with Riggins. (As if she’s the only one.)

And I see this sense of belonging at early ages. Spend some time on the parents’ sideline at a travel soccer game, and you’re in a nice little club. The players often (but not always) feel the same way.

Remember this ad?

Let me play, they all say. Let me be part of a team so I’ll feel like a part of something greater than myself. Now here’s the reality: For all our focus on sports in this country, it’s not easy to make these teams.

My local soccer club has a couple hundred boys in each of the single-digit years — U6, U7, etc. Maybe 30-40 percent of them will go to my local high school. That’s maybe 60-90 kids per year. How many of them will play in high school?

Well before that, we will have cut players by the score. They won’t make travel teams. At age 8, we’re telling them this sport won’t be a major part of their identities. They’ll either need to make a remarkable leap, find another club or find something else.

So when a child finds something in which he fits, it’s a good thing. And frankly, it’s nice for parents. They have a shared experience. They know their kids are doing something constructive together.

But at what point are we forcing the issue? Probably when we want to get them out of the ER to get back on the swim team.

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