While the FIFA Women's World Cup is currently being played out in France, my wife thought it would a good 'girl empowerment' moment to have the girls from our daughter's soccer team watch the Matilda's games. Most of these girls have been playing in the same team together now for almost 2 years, but I wouldn't have described them as friends. They were definitely nice to each other at training and game days, and enjoyed playing soccer together, but they didn't socialise at school or outside of soccer. Then the world cup came along and suddenly there is half a dozen 10 year old girls cheering, laughing, eating, and most importantly connecting over their mutual interest in soccer, in an unstructured way. New nicknames were formed. Information was learnt about each other. Inside jokes were shared. It got me thinking about a comment I heard from another parent about their daughter's friendship difficulties and some of the problems the children I see at Grove Psychology have experienced.
Firstly, the parent comment that sparked my thinking about this. At a recent birthday party, I was chatting to this parent as our children don't play together often, but seem to really enjoy each other's company when they are together. The parent told me that her daughter was having some trouble with her friends at the beginning of the year, and so she asked her daughter to think of someone she could play with at school, who would be happy for her to join in. That happened to be my daughter. I spoke to my daughter about this later, who told me they played together for a few days and then her friend went back to playing with her other friends.
Now to the issue I see in my clinic. I've had several anxious children who have a few, very close friends, and while that is good, the problem their parents say is that when that friend is not at school, their child doesn't know what to do. They struggled to ask to play with other children for the day. The other issue that has come up over the years is when a child is having difficulty with a friend in their social group, and they feel excluded and end up sitting alone.
What I observed as these children giggled and chatted, was that playing soccer offered more than just physical health, but emotional and social health as well. Here was an opportunity to develop friendships outside of their classroom. Which, hopefully, means that if something is not going well with their friendship group, they have another social group they can dip into, even for a short-time. This means that your child is able to develop more positive strategies for managing stress and coping with rejection. It also provides opportunities for your child to practice social skills and making friends in other settings. It doesn't have to be sport, but some sort of group that brings people with a common interest together.