Soccer is one of the most popular youth sports for kids around the world. Whether they play in recreational leagues, for competitive travel teams or at the middle and high school level, there are all kinds of options for kids to learn and enjoy the sport. As the U-17 FIFA Women’s World Cup in Jordan approaches, our TravelingMom with Daughters explains what girls soccer has meant to her and her three daughters.

Soccer is one of the most popular youth sports around the world. TravelingMom with Daughters tells how girls soccer has changed her & her daughters' lives.

Three soccer-playing daughters in 2012. Photo credit: Deb Steenhagen / TravelingMom with Daughters

I am a Soccer Mom

And proud of it.

Yes, I live in the suburbs and drive a minivan. Each soccer season, I sit camped out at the field in my favorite portable chair each week watching my girls practice. My Saturdays are spent, camera in hand, cheering on and taking photos of my favorite female athletes as they put their soccer skills (or lack thereof) to work against their opponents.

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For the past eleven years, at least one (usually more) of my daughters has played girls soccer for the all-volunteer American Youth Soccer Organization (AYSO). Five years ago, I joined the board of our local AYSO region as Girls Registrar. Volunteering helps me give back to a sport and organization that has given, and meant, so much to me and all three of my daughters.

Soccer is one of the most popular youth sports around the world. TravelingMom with Daughters tells how girls soccer has changed her & her daughters' lives.

Our soccer journey began with Abbi at age 4. Photo credit: Deb Steenhagen / TravelingMom with Daughters

Our First Girls Soccer Player

When my oldest daughter was in preschool, she brought home a flyer about registration for the next soccer season. It was the first time that our region had instituted a U5 (Under 5) division for four-year-olds to start learning the basics. The next fall we dressed Abbi up in her pink jersey, shorts and shin guards and watched her chase the ball up and down the field. At this level, there’s not much skill involved. But certainly plenty of enthusiasm and excitement.

Soccer is one of the most popular youth sports around the world. TravelingMom with Daughters tells how girls soccer has changed her & her daughters' lives.

Abbi playing girls soccer. Photo credit: Deb Steenhagen / TravelingMom with Daughters

As she grew older, we observed that Abbi was generally the kid standing around on the field looking at the clouds and picking grass. When the ball came her way, she would kick it with all of her heart, but then went right back to plucking grass stems until play turned again in her direction.

Soccer is one of the most popular youth sports around the world. TravelingMom with Daughters tells how girls soccer has changed her & her daughters' lives.

Abbi’s last season of soccer in 2014. Photo credit: Deb Steenhagen / TravelingMom with Daughters

She was certainly not a breakout girls soccer star by anyone’s standards. But she was our star. And she continued playing for several more years. Even after taking a break from soccer to try out softball, she went back to soccer at age 10 and continued playing right up until she ‘aged out’ after middle school. Every coach told us that Abbi loved to play and had a blast. She never heard a word of complaint from any team member when she missed a pass. The other players were all supportive, even on that day when a ball ricocheted off her foot after a corner kick to end up in her own team’s goal. She decided not to try out for the school teams, but still misses her AYSO soccer days.

Soccer is one of the most popular youth sports around the world. TravelingMom with Daughters tells how girls soccer has changed her & her daughters' lives.

Toddler Hannah running around on the field before one of Abbi’s soccer games. Photo credit: Deb Steenhagen / TravelingMom with Daughters

Falling in Love with the Sport of Soccer

My middle daughter fell in love with girls soccer while watching her older sister’s practices and games. I can’t remember how many times I had to chase and retrieve my toddler from the field so she wouldn’t get hurt or disrupt play. There was never a prouder U5 player once Hannah was old enough to run up and down the field with her own teammates. Hannah still loves soccer. She played for her middle school team last spring and is finishing out her last AYSO season this fall. She’ll continue to play for her school teams as long as she can.

Soccer is one of the most popular youth sports around the world. TravelingMom with Daughters tells how girls soccer has changed her & her daughters' lives.

Hannah’s first season of soccer at age 4. Photo credit: Deb Steenhagen / TravelingMom with Daughters

Hannah isn’t necessarily a breakout soccer star either, but she is an extremely good all-around team player. She scores goals, passes to her teammates and plays a mean defense. Soccer means so much to her that she continued to play both seasons during her ten months of chemotherapy treatment in 2015. Her oncologists were amazed that she made the effort to attend as many practices and games as she could.

Soccer is one of the most popular youth sports around the world. TravelingMom with Daughters tells how girls soccer has changed her & her daughters' lives.

Hannah continued playing soccer while undergoing chemotherapy treatments in 2015. Photo credit: Deb Steenhagen / TravelingMom with Daughters

There’s not much that will keep this girl off the soccer field! The only season she has ever missed was when tumor removal surgery on her knee took her out the spring she was ten. And the only time she ever cried about what she had to endure was when she realized that recovery would keep her off the soccer field that season.

Becca's first season of soccer at age 4. Photo credit: Deb Steenhagen / TravelingMom with Daughters

Becca’s first season of soccer at age 4. Photo credit: Deb Steenhagen / TravelingMom with Daughters

My youngest has followed in her sisters’ footsteps and also began playing girls soccer at age four. She’s played every season since and was excited to start her first U12 (under 12) soccer season this fall on the ‘big’ fields. Becca is more similar to Abbi than Hannah in terms of athletic ability, but like both of her sisters she loves to play soccer. She tries her very best and gives her all to every practice and game.

Soccer is one of the most popular youth sports around the world. TravelingMom with Daughters tells how girls soccer has changed her & her daughters' lives.

Becca playing U10 soccer in 2016. Photo credit: Deb Steenhagen / TravelingMom with Daughters

Staying with Girls Soccer

Many local families start their children off in the AYSO program and then over time they move on, either to other sports or to the ‘next level’ of travel soccer. Travel leagues are ‘more’ of everything. More competitive. More expensive. Involve more practices and games over a longer period of time during the year. Include more travel, against other cities’ travel teams. At a certain level, that’s perfect for the kids who want to specialize and focus on soccer. I know many families whose daughters play for the travel teams and I’m thrilled that there are so many options for girls who love the sport.

Soccer is one of the most popular youth sports around the world. TravelingMom with Daughters tells how girls soccer has changed her & her daughters' lives.

Hannah playing U8 girls soccer. Photo credit: Deb Steenhagen / TravelingMom with Daughters

We considered moving Hannah to a travel league but ultimately decided to continue with AYSO. We couldn’t afford the added cost, plus she wanted to keep playing with her friends and we love the program here. The girls have time to play other sports and be involved in other activities. Along with soccer, Hannah plays tennis this fall and will participate in French Club, Science Olympiad and Job’s Daughters. Becca will start Lego League in a few weeks just as soccer is winding down.

How has Soccer Changed my Daughters’ Lives?

Girls soccer has not only been a huge part of my and my daughters’ lives, but it has changed them for the better. All three girls have made friends on their teams over the years. By the time Abbi and Hannah moved to the middle school, they already knew many other girls from other elementary schools through their shared AYSO experience. The girls have learned to lose graciously and gracefully, to follow through with their commitments, to follow directions and to be respectful of their peers, their opponents and their coaches.

Soccer is one of the most popular youth sports around the world. TravelingMom with Daughters tells how girls soccer has changed her & her daughters' lives.

Hannah’s U8 team doing a team cheer before a game. Photo credit: Deb Steenhagen / TravelingMom with Daughters

In the younger age divisions, it’s common for the parents to make a ‘tunnel’ after each game for the players to run through while everyone cheers. This usually stops when the kids hit the U12 division, but one of Hannah’s teams started making a tunnel for their opponents to run through after every game – win or lose – while chanting and cheering them on. By the end of the season, each U12 girls team was doing the same for every team they played. It was so encouraging and inspiring to see the girls supporting each other, completely on their own.

Soccer is one of the most popular youth sports around the world. TravelingMom with Daughters tells how girls soccer has changed her & her daughters' lives.

Abbi and Becca playing on the sidelines during one of Hannah’s soccer games. Photo credit: Deb Steenhagen / TravelingMom with Daughters

How has Girls Soccer Changed My Life?

Season after season, I’ve watched so many teeny little girls grow up into confident young adults. I’ve met other families on the sidelines and made friends. As an introvert, it’s often difficult for me to reach out to people I don’t know, but through volunteering with AYSO, I’ve had the opportunity to help our region continue to flourish. I love seeing the names of new girls playing each season. And I love that I know all of the girls in the older divisions, by name if not by sight.

Soccer is one of the most popular youth sports around the world. TravelingMom with Daughters tells how girls soccer has changed her & her daughters' lives.

Hannah playing in a middle school soccer game in 2016. Photo credit: Deb Steenhagen / TravelingMom with Daughters

My family knows that soccer season means strangers will be stopping by at various times to drop off registration checks, pick up uniforms or turn in forms. My phone rings at all hours. Our family avoids travel during the early spring or fall because we know that our Saturdays will be spent on the soccer fields.

But that’s ok. I am a Soccer Mom, after all.

Watch the 2016 U-17 FIFA Women’s World Cup!

In only a couple of short weeks, sixteen girls soccer teams from around the world (including a US team) will begin competition for the U-17 FIFA Women’s World Cup in the beautiful country of Jordan. Matches begin on September 30, 2016 and the final match will crown the champion on October 21, 2016.

You can watch the matches either from home on television (see the schedule here) or consider visiting to watch in person and experience everything that Jordan has to offer. My family doesn’t always have the chance to watch soccer together on television, but we will be tuning in to watch the U.S. girls compete in their first match on October 1, 2016 at 9 a.m. ET for sure. I can’t wait to watch my girls’ reactions to seeing girls close to their own ages competing on this worldwide level.

Photo credit: Christine Tibbetts / Cultural Heritage TravelingMom

Photo credit: Christine Tibbetts / Cultural Heritage TravelingMom