Directions in Youth Soccer

I noticed while helping out at the U14 and U12 tryouts this past Sunday that there is a significant drop-off rate from U12 to U14. Specifically, it’s about fifty percent or so. After digging around a bit, I found out that the drop off rate is even worse from U14 to U16 and U18. In Beverly, we weren’t able to field a U16 team in one instance due to a shortage of players. The reasons are probably varying, but one that I heard really stood out to me.

Club teams in the area tend to take precedence over the town teams. The way our local leagues are structured, kids who choose to play in the club teams aren’t allowed to participate in the county system. You can’t blame them, really, as the club teams are more competitive and offer a greater chance for being noticed to the right players. That said, it can cost upwards of $2,000 to play in some of the club teams around here.

So, while the players get the chance to compete at the highest level and improve their game, the towns are unable to offer a high level of competition to other towns in the area. Also, kids who can’t afford the club team are left without the chance to play outside of school.

For here, I think we can solve this by engendering in the younger players a sense of pride in playing for the town. I suppose that, really, the sense of pride needs to be instilled in the parents, though. Whichever it is, if we can keep most of the players interested in the town teams, we won’t lose the competitive edge. With that edge, we will probably be able to hang on to more players. The cycle benefits everyone, in my mind.

Soccer on the basketball court

I just looked outside to see how my son’s doing on the playground and was greeted with the greatest sight a soccer freak like myself could see: he and a group of kids in windbreakers playing ad-hoc soccer on the basketball court. He had just scored and was running around the court, his arms out to his sides, cheering in glee. It’s underground. It’s magic. It’s what this country needs more of if we’re going to further develop our soccer standing around the world.

Kids playing soccer is almost natural. A simple and inexpensive game, everyone can play it with minimal effort. Started young enough, the magic of the feet and ball becomes second nature in the older players. Skill development is augmented by memories of playground and gym games with friends and foes and the skills come quicker without replacing the joy. It’s this kind of environment that fosters true soccer skills in the same way stick ball can turn into the most elegant form of baseball we’ll ever play.

Encourage your kids to play more often — the type of ball and shoes don’t matter on the playground — and you’ll find an energy to the game that maybe your local clubs or soccer organizations can’t generate on their own. Heck, go out and join them if you’re willing to leave the rules at home. All that matters is that feet are dancing happily around that elusive sphere in the grass, on the pavement, on the dirt.

Soccer is addictive and if allowed to come from the roots in which it was refined will become pervasive. It’s only a matter of time.