Archive | May, 2012

A Trying Week

31 May

This week is Georgia Soccer’s designated week for Academy tryouts.  Thus, our early evening has been filled with Soccer again this week for one last time before the summer.

Aidan was enthusiastic about starting tryouts Tuesday evening.  After a couple of week layoff from organized soccer, and being out of school since last week, it was a structured activity to look forward to.

The downside is that it’s the end of May in Atlanta – and temperatures yesterday were close to ninety degrees when the kids took the field at 5 PM.

Our club has between fifty and sixty boys trying out for U9 Academy.  Based on 6v6 play, I would expect that they would have 4 teams of 12 players each.  There’s also talk of expanding the pool size for U9 to add two more teams, but nothing concrete has been announced.  From a numerical standpoint then, you would assume that the majority of the players will make the cut and play in Academy.

But that depends as much on the player’s readiness as the numbers.  If the coaches don’t feel players are ready to train at the pace and frequency that Academy entails, then they won’t be selected.

It’s a tough week for the kids – three straight nights of training in the heat for ninety minutes per night.  But it’s been mentally taxing for the parents as well.

We don’t have many Pass/Fail tests anymore for eight year-old children in the United States anymore.  It’s been systemically removed from schools for this age group.  Without causing Aidan added stress for this situation, it’s hard to convey a sense of urgency to him about how he should perform. As parents, we always encourage our kids to do their best or try their hardest – but in reality we know that maximum effort doesn’t always come out.

I’ve also tried to remain as detached as possible from this entire event – apart from driving Aidan to and from the tryout and waiting while he plays.  Some of the parents stand up and help their kids during each water break, as well as signing them in each night.  I want Aidan to be independent in this event – because he will be independent in many aspects of soccer if he makes the team.

One more night, and then a nervous couple of days until the results.

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The Optimism of A Eight Year Old

14 May

“Dad, they can still win.”

Aidan said those words to me as we watched the Manchester City – Queens Park Rangers match this morning.  It was about eighty-eight minutes into the match and City was trailing 2-1.  League rivals Manchester United were at the same point winning 1-0.

A City loss and United win would mean United would win the Premier League again.

I had my doubts.  City had failed to capitalize for the entire second half against a short-handed Queens Park Rangers.

As the clocked ticked past ninety minutes into stoppage time, it started to happen.

First Edin Džeko scored on a corner to place City even in the match – but still trailing Manchester United in the league.

We screamed in amazement.

Just moments later, Sergio Aguero finds his way through the defense on a ball from Mario Balotelli to score the winning goal.

Again, we screamed and cheered.

Our reaction wasn’t unique – check out Sky Sports reaction to the turn of events.

This is why we watch sports.  There is no fictional story, movie or show that can compare to a team moving from certain defeat to league champion while at the same time defeating their arch rivals for the title.

Size 4 Soccer Balls: The Winner Is…

11 May

Several weeks ago, I asked my readers for recommendations on Size 4 Soccer balls.  One of the points made by a reader was keeping cost down – because kids do lose balls!  There’s been an epidemic of balls picked up by other players at our club.

I settled on the Select “Club” ball for my two sons and ordered a pair of them.  They arrived earlier this week and the kids have both been using them since.

Several positives for this ball:

  • Fairly unique on our fields.  I haven’t seen any balls in this color combination at our training or practice sessions.  This makes a difference when it’s time to find your ball at the end of practice.
  • Really solid touch when it’s fully inflated.  It doesn’t have much padding under the cover, which I prefer in a ball.
  • Has a good weight to it.  It doesn’t bounce like a rubber playground ball.
  • $15.99 price point for this colorway.  That was cheaper than a lot of the balls I also considered.

We will see over time how well the ball holds up and keeps inflation.

Coincidentally, I found a Size 5 version of the ball locally in the all White colorway at a going-out-of-business sale at a local store and picked it up for myself!  It has the same attributes as the Size 4 balls.  We used it for part of my match on Sunday and it was positively received by the players.  It allowed for properly weighted passes, but wasn’t overtly lively on first touch.

Select seems to produce good balls at a good price point.  They are harder to find locally – they are not commonly carried by the Big Box stores – but specialty stores may carry them as well as Soccer.com.

Debating the Merits of Academy Soccer

11 May

Beginning officially at U9, Georgia Soccer has two categories of Soccer.

Recreation is the normal track that the majority of players continue on.  Clubs play intramural games primarily, with a lower intensity of training and programs suitable for all levels of play – from players entering the sport for the first time to players who started at four years old.

Academy is the option for players who are more dedicated to the sport and expect to continue in the sport for more than the next several years.  There is supposed to be a focus on player development versus winning matches.

Our club also introduces a “Pre-Academy” for the U8 age group.  The U8 Pre-Academy plays against U10 Recreation teams and is supposed to have the same focus on development as the U9 and above Academy track.

There are several large differences between Academy (and Pre-Academy at our club) and Recreation teams.

Coaching is probably the biggest difference.  Recreation at our club is coached by volunteer coaches (primarily parents of players) with the aide of professional trainers who provide about 1/2 of the content of practice time and focus on providing players with the technical ball skills needed to progress in the sport.

Academy is coached by professional coaches.  In Georgia, a State “E” license or above is required for coaching Academy teams – but it’s common to see many clubs with higher licensed USSF coaches coaching Academy teams.  In theory, this means better instruction and coaching that applies the current philosophy in US Soccer to stress on ball development and the other facets of the US Soccer curriculum.

Recreation is coached by parent volunteers.  I’ve been a volunteer coach in U5, U6, U7 and U8 at our club for two full seasons.  There are many recreation coaches with great passion for the sport, and bring their own experience in playing the game to the sport.  Like myself, some have taken the steps needed to become a licensed coach from the state federation (I hold Georgia Soccer F and G certificates.)  But like the difference between a professional educator teaching a class and a parent helping their child with homework.

Academy teams receive another advantage – practice time.  In Pre-Academy versus U8 Recreation this is especially pronounced – U8 Pre-Academy receives two 90 minute practices each week.  U8 Recreation practices once a week for 60 minutes.  The extra two hours of practice time provides an enormous potential for growth at this age group.  In U9 and U10, the practice time is still unequal but less so – Recreation practices two hours per week and Academy three hours per week.

Of course, this comes at a price.

Recreation soccer at our club is $150 per season (thus $300 for the year) for the U10 age group and up.  U8 and below is $120 per season ($240 per year).

Academy soccer is $1000 per year, with additional fees required for kit ($160 every two years) and tournaments and supplemental training.  For those considering switching, this is probably the single greatest impediment to making the jump – a $800 difference in price tag.

How it Plays in Our Home

Our feelings on Academy are mixed.

There aren’t many families where the prospect of $1000+ per child per year on Soccer is without concern.  It does figure into our decision on what to allow Aidan and Evan to do – since if both shift into Academy (and eventually Select) it would significantly change our future financial picture.  I refuse to consider it as an investment into that college scholarship that so many parents buy into: there are too many players nationwide for this to be a serious possibility.  Obviously another $1000 each into their 529 Savings Plan would go much further.

Another concern in our family is the consideration of the role of soccer in our sons’ lives.  Both of them greatly enjoy playing soccer, and want to continue playing.  We want to ensure that they continue to feel this way!  While there’s no guarantee in either Recreation or Academy on the quality of fit between their personality and the coach’s personality, the assumption is that in Academy there is a higher expectation of performance and a perceived higher degree of pressure during practices and matches.

The time commitment is a direct offshoot of this – as it might be possible with both in Academy we could have four evenings of practices a week.  Our Saturdays might be split between two soccer parks in different parts of the Atlanta metro area.

It’s also taking them down the road of specialization.  With the higher cost of Academy and the multi-night practices, we would be forced to drop Tae Kwon Do.  Three nights of Tae Kwon Do wouldn’t mix with two nights of practices plus matches.  I’m not sure they are in Tae Kwon Do for the long run anyway – but it might be earlier than they would have ended it otherwise.  Stats Dad had an excellent multi-article series on the difficulties of being a two sport youth athlete that’s definitely worth reading.

But I do think there is a lot of upside to the experience.

Both of my sons excel in soccer and academically.  I attribute a part of their academic success to having great teachers at school who have inspired them to excel and given them the tools they need to do so.  I would expect the same to occur under the right coach on the pitch.

Playing with other players with similar interest level and skills would also help them raise their abilities.  Recreation for us has been a regular turn of players on Aidan’s team – mostly players new to the sport mixing through the team each season.  While Evan’s team has been constant, Evan’s interest in soccer has greatly outpaced his teammates so far.

The Debate Continues

Tryouts for Academy are the week following Memorial Day.  Until both complete tryouts and are slotted on teams, this remains a theoretical discussion.

Approaching the Finale

10 May

Saturday marks the final matches of our U6 and U8 team schedules.

Last Saturday showed some big improvements in our team versus prior performances. The team is continuing to play calmly and many of the players have progressed in their skills.

Most of all, everyone has acquired a new level of confidence.

One more player scored his first goal of the season. Another player who was on my teams going back to U7 last spring had his best game and came within a post’s width of scoring his first goal.

It’s shaping up to be a good season in retrospect.

We have one training session and 48 minutes of game before my coaching career comes to an end with the U8 team.

I’d really like to sit down Saturday and let the game happen. I want to give the players more freedom than usual Saturday to play the game.

I’m excited and sad for the end of the season and coaching. It’s time to move to the other sideline and enjoy watching my kids play.