The Balancing Act Between School and Soccer

The balance between soccer and school

Most young players live and breathe soccer. Their parents often wish that they would have the same enthusiasm about school, which is why maintaining a healthy balance between the two can pose a challenge.  Susanne Amar, founder of the blog “Gone into the net”, writes about what she has learned about “the balancing act between school and soccer”, in more than a decade of youth soccer.

“Your son plays soccer just for fun, right?”, “He will not want to become a professional!”, “How does that work alongside with school?” up to the remark of a teacher “If you let your son play soccer to that extent there is no way school will work out for him. You have to be aware of that.” are statements I have encountered over the last years. And after more than ten years I am sick and tired of them…

School in general is an emotional topic in our society. Reconciling soccer and school, a constant challenge to the limit for me.
In conversations with friends I realize time and time again to what extent school evolves around emotions and how tightly academic success is connected to respect for the parents. Am I a bad mother because my son is not a top-grade candidate?

Am I doing absolutely anything for his success?

Should I have sent him to a foreign language course in kindergarten already? Totally playfully, obviously!

Should we scrape together the school fee for a private school every month to guarantee a successful graduation?

It is incredible how much our salvation is connected to good grades and success at school. Not only we should be successful, our children are kindly expected to as well. Whether we are good parents, that is fulfilling our job in the way expected by the people around us, is determined by their academic success. Namely they are to perform, be well-behaved, and always perfect. And to what limits we are ready to go for that…

Continuous private tuition starting from elementary school, even though the grades are satisfactory. Projects in which parents do not support their children but write the essays for them to achieve a full score. Mind you, not on request of the children but out of concern by the parents.
Parents who have phone calls with the teachers more often than with their best friend to keep up an uninterrupted exchange. I could continue the list of insane moments even further, not just since PISA…

What does that mean for the development of our children? That they can be productive only with extreme support? That they are only successful because the pressure from outside is so strong? What about independence? Space for making own experiences? Developing own ideas and possibly taking a different path than requested by the parents, the society?

Life experiences in particular — both positive and negative — define us as a person and give us impulses for our next step. Make us an individual.

Thus, far the “normal” school life. For a soccer player, in addition to school there is soccer. In case of a U-17 player in a youth training center up to 30 hours per week incl. training, playing, and driving. That is more than a normal working day. As an employee, I would be groaning…

These boys do that voluntarily because it is their passion. And we as parents and family are providing our share. Trying to find the “middle course” between free and compulsory routines. Constantly feeling the conflict of how much soccer can be and how much school must be.
As different as everyone of us is, they deal differently with this double burden. There are boys who do so gallantly, while others have difficulties. And others yet soon start considering school a necessary evil.

During elementary school, it still is the hobby of our son which gets integrated into the everyday family life. During secondary school and when changing to a soccer school I turn into a camel driver:
Paying attention that the homework gets done. Reminding that the next exam is pending. Supporting that the vocabularies get learned. Having the very same conversation four times a year with the teacher on whether it would not be easier if our son were to play less soccer.

“Easier perhaps but certainly not better!” is my stance today still. I do not believe that reducing his sport activities will turn my son into a better pupil. Because the difference between school and soccer becomes evident rather early: his intrinsic motivation for sport. Urging himself to show his best for himself. Over all those years he is having a hard time developing this motivation for school. Here he is guided extrinsically — by my husband and me. Our repeated motto

"AS SOON AS SCHOOL BECOMES PROBLEMATIC YOU WILL INVEST LESS TIME INTO SOCCER."

only works in a certain age. I am not a friend of pressure, of “…if, then…”, but I am aware that it can be necessary at times. Try to rather strengthen the self-responsibility and independence so that our son finds out for himself what he wants. For example, not visiting a cooperative school of the youth training center not to be taken in entirely by soccer. For many players, the tight connection of school and soccer makes life easier, others are struggling nonetheless.

The older our son gets and the higher the demands in soccer grow, the more school life turns into a feat of strength for both of us. I want a vocational baccalaureate diploma or a high school graduation because I consider it important for a later career. But what does my son want?

Many people in charge of youth soccer point out how important school is. I wonder whether that matches with reality. Considering there are many successful soccer players who finished school with a junior high school and secondary school certificate or have to later catch up the practical section of the vocational baccalaureate diploma. Or for the love of soccer do completely without graduation.

When exceeding the horizon of sport, Steffi Graf is one of those who left secondary school and received private tuition at the age of 14. Or take Franziska von Almsick who opted for a swimming career after grade 12 and gets to the heart of it in an interview: […] back then I said to my mother that I cannot catch up on my sport later. The graduation I can catch up on at a later point […] I promised that to my parents and got the permission to leave school […]

An aspect that gets important at a certain level of performance — no matter whether it is about sport, music, acting, or other talents. What the decision will be in the end and whether it was the right one, you will find out only later anyhow…

School and soccer provides an important lesson for me in any case:

Being a mother I have a picture in mind of what I wish for my children. I consider keeping our son on track my task, not losing sight of the unpleasant education. Accompanying him for as long as he needs my support.

However, part of being a parent also is to leave my children the freedom of finding their own ways. Even if they will not go for the path I had wished for. By choosing and, most of all, living his hobby our son already made a different choice than many youths of the same age and left the linear course…

Susanne Amar, Fußball Bloggerin "Ins Netz gegangen"

This article was written by Susanne Amar, founder of the blog, “Ins Netz gegangen” [“Gone Into the Net”]. Find more info on her website (in German) or on our planet.training Blog.

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Susanne Amar

Susanne is a German TV-Producer, Author, Coach and founder of the Blog “Gone into the Net”. On planet.training she shares with you her experiences from more than a decade in the world of soccer.

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