This ten minute film about a group of five and six year old Spanish kids playing their first year of organized soccer is creating quite a buzz and really pulls at your heart strings. It’s worth watching just for the story and aesthetics but for those of us involved in youth soccer it opens a big box of questions.
Have a look:
So many questions come to mind after watching.
First off, how can adults still set up kids for an experience that will guarantee a total lack of success?
Then again, how do you measure success? The kids views on repeatedly losing and not being able to score vary markedly but the look on the face of the kid at 1:19 and 1:25 is absolutely haunting when asked about the lack of goals. Still some are very matter of fact about it and just love the chance to go and participate. The parents are very calm, almost bemused. They seem to accept that there is still some value in being apart of losses that go as high as 27-0. Is it a success to be able to learn to endure a season like theirs?
Do kids really think it’s important that they score and win or is something we as adults project on them? An interview with the filmmakers is really illuminating. You can read it here but watch the film first (Spoiler alert after the jump).
In the closing credits it says the team finally scored a goal and finished the season with one goal for and 271 against. 271. Who does that to kids? Who puts a team of kids new to the game out against teams older, bigger and more experienced every week.
Are the kids bothered by it? Some more than others as mentioned above but the filmmakers note in the interview what happened when they did score. “Emma, one of the two girls on the team scored and the kids went crazy. They jumping up and down and shouting. It was so incredible how they celebrated, the opposing keeper started to cry even though they were winning six or seven nil.”
I remember coaching my oldest son’s team and when the only player who had never scored a goal finally scored at U10, he ran straight to the sidelines and jumped into his dad’s arms. He was a bit embarrassed afterwards but this very shy kid with a very laid back family felt such euphoria and relief to finally score a goal that the reaction he had ended up being so out of character I remember it nine years later.
Kids want to contribute. They want to be a part of what’s going and be part of the effort to be successful. Our job as adults is to provide environments where this can happen. It’s why I’ve always believed in tiered soccer. Putting players new to the game on the same field as experienced players seems pre-historic (as does the size of goals they’re using for U7 games in the film; way too big).
I think it’s very important to teach kids how to compete. To teach them to do with respect for their opponents, teammates, officials, coaches, parents and themselves and to teach them to win with grace and lose with dignity. We can only expect them to learn the benefits of competition though if they are supported appropriately by adults. Put them in arenas appropriate to their level so they can contribute meaningfully to their team’s efforts. It will keep them engaged and increase the chances of them wanting to continue to play and get better.
Little Team is a great glimpse into another country’s youth soccer setup. It’s a great glimpse into the mind of kids and it’s a fascinating addition to the complex argument over how kids sports should be managed by adults.