In honor of World Cup mania – and in defiance of certain American soccerphobes – here are 10 reasons every mom should run out and sign her kid up to play soccer:
1. You don't have to be a freak of nature to excel at playing. Most soccer players are average height and weight. Argentina's Lionel Messi, generally regarded as the best soccer player in the world right now, suffered from a growth hormone deficiency as a child and is only 5'7" tall.
2. No special talents are required. Sure, natural athletic ability helps, but, more than any other sport, soccer skills can be perfected pretty quickly through practice and hard work. Can you think of a better lesson for a kid?
3. It's truly a team sport. No one player, no matter how talented, can win a game on his or her own. With maybe the exception of the goalie, there's not much scrutiny focused on one individual, so there's less pressure to perform compared to, say, baseball, gymnastics or golf.
4. It's inclusive. In the United States, over 40 million children participate. Soccer teams are everywhere – not just in suburbia, but among urban children, immigrant groups and disadvantaged youth. In many communities, teams in the younger grades consist of boys and girls playing together. Children of all ages and varying ability can enjoy the game. Consider U.S. goalie Tim Howard. One of America's highest-paid soccer players, he has Tourette's Syndrome.
5. It's not expensive to play. All you really need is a ball.
6. It's generally a non-contact sport.
7. It's good aerobic exercise. During a soccer game, kids are constantly running from one end of the field to the other. Research shows regular participation in soccer increases both bone mass and bone density, which improves balance and muscle strength.
8. Soccer is a universal language. No matter where you go in the world, if you kick someone a soccer ball, you have an immediate dialogue.
9. Most professional soccer players are pretty healthy role models. OK, it has its bad boys (led by cocaine-snorting crazy man Maradona), but soccer isn't plagued by steroid or performance-enhancing drug use like baseball, cycling and many other sports.
10. It's not elitist. Admission to a Major League Soccer game costs a third of what it costs to attend an NBA, NHL or NFL game.
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