We’ve made a decision in our household. Less soccer. More music.

Don’t adjust Project Play’s dreary stats on quitting sports. We still have soccer players under our roof. (I’ll actually be the only non-player in the house this fall, and I’ll be coaching and possibly reffing.) But the year-round commitment? Three practices and a game in the typical fall or spring week? Long drives out to the exurbs and beyond? Done.

Instead, the top activity will be School of Rock. And even as someone who has devoted most of his professional career to sports, especially soccer, I’m thrilled.


As a parent, I can say with no doubt whatsoever that School of Rock isn’t just a different experience than youth soccer. It’s better.

Sure, I’m glad my kids will continue to play soccer in some form. They’ll learn teamwork in situations in which the outcome is far from certain. They have to deal with winning and losing at some point in life. Better to do it now.

Plus, there’s the whole “don’t be a slug as a child and grow up to be 300 pounds with all sorts of health issues” thing. If your kids aren’t playing soccer or any other team sport, they need to be cycling or running or swimming or something else to stay active. Then we have to keep up the pace as adults, especially when we hit 40 and our metabolism slows to a crawl.

But School of Rock offers so many things youth soccer does not.

Kids truly progress according to their own aptitude and effort. There’s no “U10” or “U12” at School of Rock. At my kid’s very first show, he was maybe 9 years old, playing a few relatively complex parts. A few other young kids were playing parts of various complexity. And a few older kids were stomping out awesome bass grooves and guitar solos while singing and strutting across the stage like they’re auditioning to replace Ann Wilson or Roger Daltrey.

School of Rock students get whatever parts they can handle. The big high school senior who plays rock-steady bass parts will be the guy who holds Disco Inferno together. The scared elementary schooler who can barely reach the drum pedals will play a simple beat on a simple song. And everything in between.

It’s not like youth soccer, where we recreational coaches toss out a kid on the field to play his required half of the game, knowing full well we’re going to have a massive hole in the lineup that will be exploited by the bigger, faster, ruthless attackers on the other team. And it’s not like a travel soccer game in which one team might not be challenged. If I Love Rock and Roll is too easy for you, try this …

Or maybe this …

Those two songs featured in the little one’s last show. He played keyboards on the first. The second was held together by a high schooler who’s a pretty good soccer player but also an amazing drummer. (And guitarist.)

I majored in music. (And philosophy, because I collect useless degrees.) My son surpassed me in terms of ear training and general keyboard skills before he finished elementary school.

And one factor in that development is this …

The older kids encourage the younger kids. One student we’re going to miss at School of Rock now that she’s graduated is a charismatic, ever-smiling singer. Earlier this year, at the CBGB-themed show, I saw her sing Blondie’s Call Me and then point over at my kid when it was time for the keyboard solo.

At the last show for her and the big bass guy, I thanked both of them for encouraging my son so much. She gave him a big hug and told him how awesome he is.

You might get that sort of atmosphere at your local soccer club. We were lucky to have a small travel club in which the older kids set a nice example and got the younger kids juggling more without even realizing what they were doing. But most of the time, the U18 team is off doing its own thing while the U9s never see anyone older.

“But this is an unfair comparison,” you might say. “You can’t throw elementary schoolers on the same field as high schoolers, and team sports teach kids to deal with adversity.”

Sure, but you can find ways to mix the age groups without having a 16-year-old run over a 10-year-old. And as for adversity …

School of Rock teaches kids to deal with failure. Every once in a while, a song turns into a train wreck. The drummer’s concentration wavers on a difficult part. The singer can’t quite hit all the notes and is rattled to the point of missing a few words. It’s just as painful to watch as a parent as a defensive breakdown or a whiffed shot on the soccer field.

So what happens next? You play the next song. It’s not like soccer, where if you have a bad game, you have a week to deal with it. If you know a season’s going down the tubes, you’re SOL. Gotta stay in that division for the rest of that season — or longer, if you have the misfortune of being in an “elite” league with no promotion/relegation or other mechanism for pulling an overmatched team out of the fray.

And you have to try out to make the top bands. We have a “House” band that’s basically the opposite of “House” soccer. It’s the best of the best. There are some damn good musicians in the “JV” House band and some more who, like a recreational soccer player, simply can’t make the commitment to the extra practices required here. Kids might try out and not make it.

So you’re not sheltered from anything at School of Rock. Even on an individual level, the frustration of not being able to nail a difficult part is just as hard to handle as the frustration of missing that crucial shot or failing to meet your juggling goals.

So what can youth soccer learn from School of Rock? 

A few things:

  1. Don’t get locked into age groups. Let kids progress according to their abilities, a plan I fleshed out at SoccerWire a couple of years ago.
  2. Foster a sense of belonging to a club. The “club-centric” model is ridiculous for leagues but not a bad idea for the occasional showcase, especially if it’s set up so teams in the same club can actually watch each other play. Have pickup games or mixed scrimmages so kids can get to know players in other age groups. Have club-wide social events.
  3. Teach better. Work with kids both one-on-one and in group settings. Let them explore their strengths and weaknesses.
  4. Embrace diverse approaches. The School of Rock teaching style, basically tailored to each student, is a refreshing change from the pedantic egomaniacs who pontificate on coaching youth soccer the “right” way and scoff at everything else. They’ll always teach ear training, just as any good soccer coach is going to work on foot skills in some way, shape or form, but if Student A learns a part differently from Student B, that’s fine.

Maybe then, youth soccer will rock almost as much as School of Rock. Almost.





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