Peewee soccer is a rite of passage for most kids. The little uniforms, running around in packs after the ball, orange slices afterward. But for gifted kids – as with most things – it’s more complicated than just playing a game.
Giftedness begins at birth: the intensity, emotion, sensitivities all start at the beginning. Some are described as colicky or just plain hard. Gifted boys in particular have boundless energy as soon as they start moving. So it makes sense that parents look for any outlet to spend that energy, and soccer is a popular choice (although not the only one – similar complications can arise from basically any team sport that involves a ball). The trouble often begins at the first ‘practice’. Let’s take a walk through what that might look like:
The kids and parents arrive at a presumably new location. Most kids are running around, playing with new friends. The issue: Gifted kids have difficulty with the unknown. A new location with new people will often cause anxiety and stress, even before the practice begins. They may begin to withdraw and be reluctant to join in when it’s time to start.
The kids begin to learn new skills like kicking the ball. The issue: Fine and gross motor skills are often delayed in gifted kids. Catching, throwing, kicking balls are all skills that come much later than their age peers. In addition, they exhibit perfectionism at a very early age and will be frustrated quickly when they realize that they can’t do it the way they’ve seen other kids, professionals on tv, etc. This can lead to a meltdown of tears, stating it’s impossible, giving up, and storming off.
Teams are chosen and a scrimmage begins. The issue: Gifted kids typically have a heightened sense of fairness. They are rule followers and are often more interested in reading/creating rules than actually playing any game. Because of this, as soon as the mass of children run after the ball, they will stop and shout at their teammates that they’re not doing it right, it’s not fair! Combined with the above mentioned lack of motor skills, the frustration and stress will be too much at this point, and they’ll simply sit down right where they are, or head off to find a parent on the sidelines.
Of course some kids excel at team sports and soccer in particular, it’s important to know your child’s strengths and weaknesses, even at the tender age of 2 or 3. Physical activity and learning new sports is an important part of childhood that should be fun, not stressful (for them and for you!). Listen to their interests and gauge some basic skills before signing up for the t-ball team or soccer lesson, and check out some individual sport options too, like swimming, track, rock climbing, martial arts, dance, and gymnastics!