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.

Men’s Open Cup 2007

Region 1 Amateur Qualifying

The US Open Cup qualifying matches are in full swing, and unfortunately there’s not much hope for our uber-local teams in the Amateur or Premier Development Ranks.

Not far from here, though, Danbury United from Connecticut are in a position to challenge the Aegean Hawks from D.C. from the Region 1 Amateur ranks. Sadly, local teams Phantoms and Lowell Revolution were ousted early on.

PDL Eastern Conference Qualifying

Up in the Premiere Development League (PDL), Vermont Voltage (30 miles from my hometown) are long gone. Cape Cod needs to win their next match (vs. Vermont) if they’re to have any hopes of beating out Long Island Rough Riders, but that will also depend on Long Island losing or drawing. Who are they playing? Vermont, so my money’s on Long Island to secure the PDL spot for the Northeast.

Ahh, wouldn’t it be awesome?

American Soccer Pyramid – Wikipedia

This is something I would like to see happen in this country: an interconnection of all of the various divisions of soccer. How cool would it be to see the Vermont Voltage struggle their way, season by season, to the MLS? Isn’t it about time that Rochester, NY got themselves an MLS team? Well, with a system of promotion and relegation, it could happen.

I’ve heard from a few people that there are some difficult financial issues to work out with the promotion/relegation systems, but I think the results are worth it: wider-spread soccer, more teams created at the local level (because the dream is there to go higher), and the passion that only a team facing relegation can muster.

I know that it will probably never happen, but I’d still like to think it’s possible.

The degradation of American talent (or) Where have all the players gone?

There’s a guy at work I chat with, and we frequently have the following discussion: whether it’s good for the United States for soccer players to increasingly be heading overseas to play.

There are — at least — two sides to the discussion. I’m sure there are more, but for tonight I’m going to focus on just two of them.

  1. With the best players going to the EPL, Bundesliga, Serie A, etc, the United States ends up with a stronger pool of talent for the national team and the U.S. is taken more seriously on an international level.
  2. With the best players going to the EPL, Bundesliga, Seria A, etc, the United States ends up with a weaker stateside league, leading to the decline of a recently increasing soccer enthusiasim in the U.S.

Both arguments have merits. Both arguments have pitfalls. For instance, do U.S. players from foreign leagues make for a stronger national team? Our performance in the 2006 World Cup would seem to indicate otherwise with the only goal coming from an MLS rookie of the year, Clint Dempsey.

Does the MLS get weaker with the best players leaving for foreign leagues? MLS deputy commissioner Ivan Gazidis says no (ref: SoccerNet article here), but if soccer has a reputation of being a boring game here in the states, how is it a good thing that our most exciting players (most recently, Clint Dempsey) are leaving?

What neither argument takes into account is the opportunities for the players themselves. In short, it’s a good thing for individual players who want to succeed and prosper in professional soccer to get out of the U.S. at the moment. That’s fine. We should, however, be thinking of how to build up the MLS so that those players can make a living here. Can be successful and prosperous here.

Call me nationalistic, but I think it’s a shame that talent like Dempsey, Brian McBride, Carlos Bocanegra, and local ace Charlie Davies aren’t playing for our league.

So I land closer to the second point listed above, though I can see merit in the first. First and foremost, however, I believe that the MLS should work to strengthen not only the league financially but also with talent. To do that, we need to get these players to want to play here. As more stay, the competition gets tougher, and more will want to stay.

U8 Tactics: Continuing Progress

Saturday’s game was a rough one. Our opponents played very good soccer. Plus, I think they were all like 8 and 1/2. They were tall, anyhow. And fast. My team’s average age is seven.

In addition to age and height disparities, only 8 out of 12 of my players showed up, so I wasn’t really able to field the combinations I was planning on. My goal was to see what happened when I put players in their natural positions and put four players with four different natural positions on the field. As it was, I had to field some players in places they weren’t familiar with or didn’t want to play.

The plus side of that was I was able to see what happens when a kid who naturally gravitates towards a defensive position — and who incidentally rocks in that position — needs to play forward.

They all worked really hard, though, so kudos to the kids. There were some phenomenal saves in goal, though, and some real heroics in the midfield leading to a shutdown of the other team’s scoring about halfway through.

I still believe there to be merit in the idea that removing the confusion of playing a position by having players be in a position natural to them can be a boon to focusing on skills during games. It’s all the more important during our winter indoor season to be able to focus on skills during the game because there is no practice. I’m determined to figure this out because I still believe that soccer at this level is about getting the kids used to how the game is played.

More to come.

Soccer Tactics for U8: Playing Natural Positions

Tomorrow I’m going to put some of my ideas about soccer tactics for U8 into practice during my team’s game against Swampscott. Strategy at this level is more about finding ways to bring out the kids’ natural tendencies than it is tactical thought. The focus is still on footwork: passing, dribbling, trapping. We begin to try to develop a sense of field vision, however, and this is accomplished by removing the stresses of position play.

Over the past few weeks, I’ve been rotating the players through the positions on the field and taking note of where they seem the most confident. I’m going to use that information tomorrow to put together the 4 groups of 4 players that will go out on the field together. My hope is that by putting the players in the positions which are most comfortable for them, they can then be able to focus more on skillwork. Also, I suspect that they’ll be less likely to bunch up around the ball, giving them more opportunities to play an open game.

That’s the theory, and I hope it works. If it doesn’t, I’ll just keep working on it. I’ll let you all know here how it goes.

Italy eclipsed by a balding head butt?

With Italy winners of the 2006 World Cup, there are a lot of people out there rejoicing. As they should. Italy’s soccer needs an image boost, and perhaps there can be something started as the Azzuri take the stage as champions of the next four years. Good. Yay.

That said, I’m not sure that their win is going to overshadow the story of Zidane getting himself red-carded out of the game for verbally-provoked headbutt on Materazzi’s chest away from play in overtime.

Racial slur or no, I’m disgusted with what the man did. Wouldn’t it have been a much more fitting retaliation to use his anger for the game? Score a goal? Nail the tying French penalty kick? Attacking Materazzi was not an option. Not for a player with the reputation of Zidane. Not today when so much is at stake for team and country.