By Alex Perdikis
Compared with sports that require lots of equipment, like football and hockey, soccer is cheap and low-maintenance — kids need shin guards, socks, cleats, a uniform, a ball, and they’re good to go. Soccer is also easy to pick up and fun to play, even at the lowest levels of the sport.
So it’s no surprise that youth soccer is wildly popular. What’s more surprising, and certainly less well known, is youth soccer’s pedagogical power. For millions of American kids, soccer isn’t simply a transient pastime. It’s a stepping stone to lucrative, impactful careers — an activity that builds character and imparts life lessons that linger long after participants hang up their cleats.
Youth soccer is an especially powerful preparatory tool for kids pursuing these four common careers.
Wait — a game that involves running around on a grassy pitch and trying to get a ball past your last opponent lays the groundwork for careers in architecture? Really?
It’s not as crazy as it sounds. One of soccer’s most underappreciated competencies is spatial reasoning: the ability to visualize objects in space and predict where they’ll turn up before they actually get there. That’s a critical skill for architects, too.
Turn on any professional soccer match and you’ll hear the announcers blathering about a team’s “shape,” meaning adequate spacing and ample passing angles between players. Teams that maintain their “shape” as individual players move up and down the field tend to create more scoring opportunities than teams that bunch or spread too thin.
Understanding “shape” is like riding a bike — once you learn, it’s hard to forget. Spatial reasoning is an innate human ability, but it doesn’t automatically switch on. Soccer is a reliable, and more importantly fun, on switch.
2. Nursing and Medicine
Soccer requires strong legs and formidable cardiovascular conditioning, even at the youth level. It’s impossible to watch a soccer match without being impressed by the players’ stamina. That’s sort of a metaphor for the famously demanding medical professions, where practitioners are often expected to put in 12- or 24-hour shifts without a second thought.
Though it’s not nearly as dangerous as football, soccer is also fraught with peril. Virtually everyone who plays youth soccer long enough sustains some kind of injury, whether it’s an easily treatable laceration or a more serious skeletal trauma. Seeing (or experiencing) such injuries firsthand is a powerful motivator for future doctors and nurses.
3. College and Career Counseling
Youth soccer inspires almost tribal passions in its adherents. If you’ve ever watched kids fire themselves up ahead of a big game, you know the true meaning of “team spirit.” Long after their playing days are over, kids can look back with fondness on memories and friendships made in the spirit of motivation.
And some continue to make those memories with members of the new generation. The difference between team sports and college and career counseling is one of degree, not kind. Great counselors draw upon deep reserves of motivational talent and passion, stored up in some cases for years or decades.
4. Physical Therapy
It’s not hard to see how a few years of youth soccer, and the inevitable aches, tweaks, and more serious injuries that come with it, can prepare kids for careers in physical therapy. There’s nothing like firsthand experience to lead one to one’s calling, right?
Injuries are tough to watch and even tougher to sustain, but most have an inspirational silver lining: the promise of recovery. For future physical therapists weighing the pros and cons of the calling, overcoming one’s own injury or helping one’s teammates do the same may be all the persuasion that’s needed.