Just play soccer

Two soccer players playing soccer for fun

Do you remember the days when you just wanted to play soccer? Do you remember when you would walk to the park and see if there was a group of lads and gals playing a kickabout game? There was no coach and no parents. It was just a group of kids playing a game they love. And, the best part was that you didn’t have to know anyone to join in. You would simply ask “whose ball is it?”

If there were no proper goals, piles of backpacks were placed opposite each other an equal distance apart, marking the length of the pitch. Finally, your imagination determined the width, unless the corner flags were marked with a jacket or pair of shoes. The pitch was set!

Making of the teams

The owner of the ball ran the game. After all, it was their ball. Although, this could always change if someone more popular showed up. The match was beginning to take shape. It was now time to pick the teams.

There were a few ways of doing this. The owner of the ball would team up with his mates and throw all the newbies together. Make no mistake, you still want to win and have the best players.

Friends playing soccer

Often, there would be two captains. These captains would then pick their teams by taking turns selecting players. If nobody knew you, or you weren’t that good, you’d be picked last and most likely put you in goal. Ahhh, the birthplace of great goalkeepers.

Where I lived, Liverpool and Everton fans teamed up to play against everyone else. I played with the Manchester United and Tranmere Rovers fans because I supported Arsenal. Manchester United was the best team back in my younger days. You were a glory hunter if you supported them.

Free play

You could play 10 vs 10 or 20 vs 20. It didn’t really matter, nor did the clock. There was no time limit. The match was over when everyone who had brought a ball had left, because their mum told them to be home at a certain time for supper.

Showing the love for the game of soccer

This is where the love of the game starts. And, where you and your friends could pretend to be your favorite professional players. You were no longer you. You were David Beckham smashing in free kicks, or the bruiser Roy Keane mowing down anyone who got near your goal.

Most of the time, everyone played until you could no longer see the ball. You packed up your belongings and walked home with your new-found teammates. You talked about the match and arranged a time to continue the second leg when you all get back together.

Don’t show me the money

In the United States, youth soccer has become mostly focused on numbers and money. Therefore, parents find themselves spending outrageous amounts of cash for their child to “learn the game” before they have experienced the thrill of playing with friends. Some club coaches discourage players from playing soccer outside of the team setting. More importantly, this is harmful to player development since it limits the number of touches the player gets on the ball.

Many underprivileged players do not get to play at higher levels due to financial roadblocks. Soccer is becoming a rich person’s sport (which we will discuss in another topic). Yet, it is the least fortunate that are the ones you will find trying to sneak onto gated pitches to get some playing time in with their friends. I wasn’t at all rich growing up and neither were most of my friends. It never stopped us from having opportunities to play soccer.

Yoth soccer player playing a soccer match

Let’s encourage our kids to just play soccer. If they want coaching in an organized system, then you can search for the right club and level of play that suits them.

Soccer doesn’t always need to be adult controlled. Most lower-level organized sessions have parents paying for what can be done for free anyway.

The next Lionel Messi

Too much control can stifle the creativity of players at a young age and give parents a less than ideal experience with the sport. Joining a soccer club too early creates pressures and unrealistic expectations neither parents or players are ready for. Shouting from the sideline can lessen a player’s love of the game. We so desperately try to turn our child into the next Lionel Messi As a result, we forget our young soccer player fell in love with soccer by imagining he is the best player in the world.

Let youth players decide when they want to take the next step to improve their knowledge and reading of the game. Encourage free play with friends, and let their love for the game guide them into taking the next steps into organized soccer.