“Saturday morning at Flushing Meadows Park in New York City. Children of all ages and backgrounds are at play on scores of soccer fields. Their diversity and their joy with a ball is as evident here as it is likely to be missing when the U.S. squad takes the field against England at the World Cup two weeks from now…”
The article above mentions Claudio Reyna’s aim of loosening the structure of American soccer for U.S. children. All I can say is, what took us so long?
Recently, I signed up my youngest son (2 yrs old) for soccer. It’s held indoors, about 15 kids, their parents, and a “coach.” We meet for an hour and about fifteen minutes of that is spent running and kicking. During the rest of the time we do drills. Drills. For toddlers.
We’ve gone to two classes and I’m not sure if we are going back for a third. Two-year olds are very good at a few things, such as laughing, wiggling, and falling down. But they’re not good at drills, and they shouldn’t be. The point of introducing soccer to children at an early age should be to show them how much fun it is. And to small children, fun is running and kicking.
One of the reasons that soccer has failed to grab the attention of so many American kids who play it–one reason why those kids haven’t all grown into adult fans of the game–is that in the U.S., soccer is an activity as structured and organized as piano lessons or math class. Since our kids don’t typically take a ball down to the park and kick it around by themselves, their experience of the sport is one of rigidity and competition. No wonder they don’t grow up burning with passion for futbol.
What Claudio Reyna hopes to do is to turn our organized youth teams into substitutes for improvised play. He wants the kids to have fewer drills and more free time. He wants them to experiment, be creative, waste some time with a soccer ball at their feet, so that they learn about soccer as an expression of physical creativity, the way that playground basketball is today.
Soccer in the U.S. needs this. Kids need it. They have enough structured time. Let’s loosen the reigns and just let them play. Especially the toddlers. (Really, drills?)