By Joe Ulm
This past Wednesday we had over 430 people at Armory Park – 250 of them kids, all between the ages of 4 and 7 years old. They played games like “Freeze Tag,” “Hit-the-Dirt,” and “Snakes” – little faces lighting up with victories, parents encouraging from the sidelines throughout. It was quite a site to see and it reminded me of how much fun it was watching (and coaching) my kids when they were that age. Of course, back then, I didn’t know what lied ahead; I didn’t know that in many ways, things get even more fun. For whatever it’s worth, here’s my experience…
Explorers and Micros (4U – 6U)
Parents watch their sons and daughters experience soccer for the first time. They meet new people and chat cordially, helping players and coaches from the sidelines however they can. The focus in on their son or daughter and try to figure out if this is something they’ll enjoy for years to come.
In our Juniors program lots of players are still experiencing soccer for the first time, but there’s a good number of players who participated in the Micros program as well. Some parents know each other from Micros and others meet for the first time. Teams are formed and games become part of the fun. Players wear home and away jerseys. Players experience structured competition and parents get to cheer the wins and great plays…and they console the missed chances. Parents and players choose their preference for the next year – do the want to play recreational soccer or do they want to try Academy?
Recreation (9U – 15U)
Players play on larger fields in 7 v 7 competition against other clubs. Goalies now play a part as do tactics. Practices are 90 minutes long. Parents drive their sons and daughters to away games. Dribbling, passing, and shooting skills stand out. Some parents know each other from Juniors and Micros; some meet each other for the first time. Long-term relationships cement themselves between kids and between parents. Sideline conversations become familiar. Sleepovers are coordinated; backyard grillouts.
Players receive instruction from certified, PSU coaches. Fun and enjoyment are still the focus, but training is structured, expectations are higher, and fundamental skills are specifically developed. 9U and 10U players play on larger fields just like 9U and 10U Recreational players. Here again, relationships begin to grow, as do the players’ soccer skills. Tactics are taught in ways that align with our style of play and the competition tightens a bit. Parents watch as their sons and daughters grow more and more confident.
Full-year Select (11U – 15U)
Players try out to make the team and are coached by certified PSU coaches. Some of the players have the same coach they had the previous year (or years) and bonds begin to form between the players and coaches – as do the bonds between parents and coaches. People become familiar with each other, sleepovers and cookouts become regular things, and the level of competition grows. Travel to away games grows longer as do the length of pregame conversations in cars. Players develop a true love of the sport and they begin to flourish. Parents see the offsides call before the sideline judge raises the flag. Parents talk about the team in “we’s” and “us’s.”
High-school Select (15U – 19U)
Players drive themselves to practice. Parents ride together and meet their sons and daughters at games. The whole game unfolds in front of everyone each week; tactics change throughout the game, and long diagonal passes switch the field regularly. Defenses work to maintain their shape. Parents note areas of space consumed by dribbling players, sweet crosses that land in the box, and back-post runs that find the back of the net. The sidelines are full of everything familiar; people and conversations, evening plans, and discussions about the next High School season. Bonds are deep – some which will last a lifetime.
Whatever your son or daughter’s journey may be in soccer, take the time to enjoy it. It’s a wonderful ride.
Stay United everyone.