6 Life Skills Kids Learn at Soccer Camp

9 years ago I travelled to Uganda with a couple of soccer balls in my backpack and a bunch of shirts designed, created and purchased by my students from Whitby School. At over 6,000 feet above sea level, the children in the village cluster of Ruhira, where I was to live for the next week, lived a completely different life than I had ever experienced—yet we were connected by our love for soccer. Soccer is frequently called the “beautiful game” for the exciting movements and plays that professional players or children on the street make as they weave their way towards the goal. What I find most beautiful about the sport is how it brings together people from all over the world. Played in over 200 countries by more than 240 million people on fields ranging from million dollar pitches to patches of dirt or concrete, soccer is truly the world’s game.

With students from all over the world, soccer is often a common starting point for our students. Yet the physical aspect isn’t the only reason we love soccer at Cardinal Soccer Camps. We’ve found that the beautiful game also helps our players develop valuable skills that they can apply to other parts of their life as well. As a 15 year community based soccer business, with whom our coaches work year round in the local towns, has helped us continue to grow in size and provide an unparalleled soccer experience. We don’t put 8 year olds with 12 years olds like other camps or have 5 kids to a group. Our size allows us to group players on ability and age and in numbers that support a great camp experience. Why do we think camps are important - this is why.

1. Decision Making

Soccer is a pure players game. Unlike American football or basketball, coaches don’t have a chance to tell players where to go. Kids have to adjust and make decisions on the fly. They gain ownership for their action and non-action quickly.

As a soccer coach, that means Cardinal Coaches need to empower kids to make good decisions on their own. That means teaching them how to handle many different situations in practice and talking about how to quickly assess a situation so they can choose the right response. It also means asking kids to reflect and evaluate afterwards about the results and if there were any other decisions they could have made.

Yet as much as we try to prepare kids to make the right choice, it really comes down to them on the field. It’s tremendously empowering for kids to know that they’re in control. Plus, since they quickly see the results of their decisions, it teaches kids how to make better choices.

2. Social Problem Solving

When kids play soccer, they learn quickly it’s not about “me and the ball.” If any kid tries to dominate the play, they quickly get swarmed by the other team. Players realize that they have to depend on their teammates to make anything happen.

When kids play as part of a team, they also begin to see how to leverage people with different skills. Perhaps one kid is really fast, while another has a long, accurate pass. At some point, the light will go on and they’ll realize that “If we get the ball to X on defense, he or she can pass to Y, and they’ll be able to run past everyone to score a goal.”

I am a member of a team and I rely on the team. I defer to it and sacrifice for it, because the team, not the individual, is the ultimate champion. - Mia Hamm

3. Responsibility

When kids first begin playing soccer, it’s very common to see every single one chasing the ball in a pack around the field. Yet as they gain more experience, they realize they’re more effective as a team if each person plays a different role or position on the field. It’s always fun to see the moment when each kid realizes, “This is my position. I have a responsibility in this area and against these opposition players. I need to be ready to support my team-mates. Only one kid can kick the ball—I need to be in my spot.”

Kids also learn what happens when they don’t play their position. When they’re young, it’s easy for kids to get overly excited when they see the play coming their way. If a defender runs after the ball, however, they could be leaving a big hole near the goal. Or a forward could miss a forward pass if they play too defensively. After kids see the play break down many times because someone is out of position, they start to understand why it’s so important to play their role. The other side of responsibility is self-conduct – the act of being positive and open-minded when things don’t go quite right and playing within the rules of the game.

4. Anticipatory Thinking

As kids gain experience playing soccer, they begin to hold a picture in their mind of where their teammates are and where the ball is in relation to their goal (and the opposing goal). This spatial awareness helps kids learn to “read the game” and anticipate things that haven’t happened yet. For example, they may notice that a teammate is open and start planning where they need to go if that player gets a pass. This cognitive awareness then translates to every other sport they will play!

A major benefit of developing this spatial awareness in a game situation is that it teaches kids anticipatory or perceptive thinking. Kids get immediate positive feedback when they correctly adjust to where the play will go, which encourages them to anticipate solutions for potential problems in real life situations. This is an important life skill for leaders to develop because it gives them the ability to be proactive about solving potential problems.

5. Perseverance

The legendary Pele once said, “Success is no accident. It is hard work, perseverance, learning, studying, sacrifice and most of all, love of what you are doing or learning to do.”

When kids play soccer, they learn that success isn’t easy. Unlike basketball where the scores reach into the double digits, soccer is not known for producing many goals. As a result, there’s always a sense of elation when the ball actually goes past the goalie and into the net. In soccer it’s a massive accomplishment to score. So many things have to fall in place that it feels like a significant achievement.

Soccer also teaches kids how to literally pick themselves up when things aren’t going well. Since they’re still developing their coordination, kids often trip over their own feet or get accidentally get knocked down in the heat of the moment. When that happens, we help them jump back up and get back in the play.

Kids learn that getting knocked down or getting scored upon isn’t the end of the world—what matters is that they keep trying.

6. Sportsmanship

In our soccer summer camps throughout Lower Fairfield and Westchester Counties, we don’t keep score because we don’t want kids to put all their focus on winning. Yet kids are competitive and they often keep track themselves. After all, everyone loves how it feels to win.

What soccer does is teach kids that it’s impossible to win every time—and that it’s not the end of the world. Every team has games where they don’t connect well, or the opposing team was better that day. That’s a good thing. I believe kids don’t truly appreciate the job of winning until they’ve suffered the heartbreak of losing.

When kids discover that losing is part of soccer, they also become better sports. Players on the losing team learn to congratulate the winners for a job well done (while secretly resolving to work harder so they can win next time.) At the same time, players on the winning team know how it feels to lose. This gives them the empathy to accept congratulations gracefully.

The Beautiful Game Sets Children Up For Success

When kids learn to play soccer, they’re not just learning a physical skill. Soccer teaches kids skills such as teamwork, perseverance, and decision making, that they’ll be able to apply to all aspects of their life. It also helps them learn to about the ups and downs of life, anticipate opportunities and how to work with their peers to solve problems. In addition, they’re learning to play a game that connects them with millions of children all over the world.

At Cardinal Soccer, soccer is what we breathe and it fits right in with our commitment to whole child development at camp and in the soccer programs that we run year-round. If you’d like your child to develop life skills by learning to play the beautiful game, sign them up for the Cardinal Soccer Camp at this summer at www.cardinalsoccercamps.com

Kurt Putnam

Greenwich United Director of Coaching and Player Development

Greenwich High School Boys Varsity Head Soccer Coach

Owner of Cardinal Soccer Camps LLC