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By Shawn Muller-
(CBS) A “child prodigy” is nothing new in the world of sports.
Tiger Woods was groomed to be a professional golfer ever since he was old enough to swing a club. Venus and Serena Williams were going to be the next tennis superstars before they were old enough to date, and Freddy Adu was touted as the savior of American soccer before he had hair in his arm pits.
Everywhere you look, it seems like more and more children are giving up their only shot at being kids, for hopes of stardom on the playing field.
And they are getting younger and younger.
Recently, Real Madrid signed a 7-year-old kid from Argentina named Leonel Angel Coira to enroll in their soccer academy.
Really, Real Madrid?
You signed a 7-year-old kid because you didn’t want a rival club to gain the rights to this player—oops, I mean tyke? Come on!
The kid is barely in first grade!
How in the world does anyone know if he will become the next Lionel Messi—the kids favorite player and Argentina-native?
I am sure this little guy has a dream of playing professional soccer, and I have no problem with that at all. It is great for a kid to have dreams. When I was seven years old, I dreamed of playing Major League Baseball, scoring the winning basket in Game 7 of the NBA Finals and catching the winning touchdown pass in the Super Bowl. I always thought — and still do — that being a professional athlete, making millions of dollars, and being idolized throughout the world would be the coolest thing anyone could ever do.
But I was just seven and dreams were meant to be just that: Dreams.
I wasn’t worried about my professional athletic career just yet because I had other business to attend to. Important things like playing with my Hot Wheels, protecting the universe with my He-Men, or preventing World War III with my G.I. Joe action figures.
No way was I going to miss out on those opportunities just because I wanted to play sports for a living, and neither should Leonel Angel Coira.
Sports could and can wait.
He may be a “prodigy” and he could possibly go on to have the greatest career in the history of professional soccer, but how in the world does anyone know when he is just 7?
People raise their kids the way that they want to, and if they decide they want their little boy to begin his professional soccer career when he is probably still wetting the bed, then so be it. Maybe the family needs the money? Maybe the kid will get a better education in Spain rather than in Argentina? Who knows?
I know—as a parent of two kids myself—that I would not let this happen for any of my kids at such a young age, but that is just me.
Every family has reasons for the decisions they make, but the onus of helping to support a family—which is the case in many of these situations– shouldn’t be placed on the shoulders of a 7-year-old kid. This boy, however good he may be at soccer, needs to have the opportunity to play footloose and fancy free, not because he may feel pressure from his family.
If Leonel Angel Coira is good enough to play professional soccer, he will be a professional soccer player. That time will come if it is meant to be. Let kids decide what they want to do with their lives. When they are ready to make that decision, they will make it.
Just because a parent’s dreams of stardom fizzled doesn’t mean they need to live vicariously through their children.
I just hope little Leonel remembers to go potty before he takes to the pitch for the first time when he arrives in Madrid, Spain next month.
He is a big boy now, remember.