Featured / Youth Soccer

Keeping the love alive

Photo: Alison Mickel

My household consists of five children ranging in ages from 6 to 13, all involved in multiple activities throughout the school year. While soccer is the primary sport for our kids, they also participate in chorus, band, school plays, school clubs and committees, and softball/baseball (which they play simultaneously with spring intramural and travel soccer. I’m tired just from writing all of this!). That being said, we all look forward to the summer months when we can enjoy some much needed downtime.

The goal is always to let the kids (and the grownups) relax and enjoy the blissfully unstructured 11-week break from school and organized sports and activities. However, we also want the kids to keep their skills sharp for the rapidly approaching fall season in a way that doesn’t feel too structured and is, more importantly, FUN.

So, how do you get the kids to practice and prepare for the upcoming season in a way that doesn’t remind them of their dreaded summer reading assignments? (Yes, we hear the groans when the kids hand over the summer reading lists on the last day of school.)

I’m going to share a few things we do over the break, as well as things that I’ve observed and hope to “borrow” that could help keep your kids not only be “soccer ready” but also looking forward to getting back on the pitch.

It’s important to mention that our soccer clubs, as well as a number of other local clubs, have mandatory downtime of 4-6 weeks with no soccer being played. I am a big proponent of allowing kids to shut down as much as possible over the summer months, so I preface this list by saying try not to push them into doing anything they don’t want to do. However, if your kids are anything like mine, they are usually bored and looking for something to do by the second week of summer vacation, so these suggestions may help keep them occupied as well as excited and engaged in soccer.

Camps (minus the s ’mores and sing-a-longs)

This one is a no brainer, I’ll admit, but with the always growing (and sometimes confusing) list of available summer camps, don’t forget to fit soccer camp into the rotation. Your local clubs may typically offer 1 to 2-week camps but there are also youth soccer camps offered at high schools and universities, as well as corporate sponsored camps. Nike, for instance, has US Sports Camps (USSC) as the official operator of their sports camp programs and they offer several soccer camps and academies during the summer at various locations throughout the US.

Philadelphia Union also has soccer camps hosted by various schools throughout the tri-state area where Union coaches and players also make guaranteed guest appearances. (They make no guarantees; the players listed on the camp brochure may change prior to their appearances. Union fans can insert obvious joke here.)

Bottom line, there are a variety of camps to choose from but be prepared because camp fees can be costly, although financial aid is available for some camps if needed. So hop on the web and find a camp that’s right for you and your child to keep them involved in the game, and hopefully learn some new skills to bring into next season.

What’s good in the hood

We have a soccer net in our backyard, so it’s a common occurrence for an impromptu pick up game to take place among our kids and some of the neighborhood kids. With no coaches or parents to tune out, and nothing at stake except neighborhood bragging rights, this is a great way for kids to truly have fun with the sport. You can also organize a weekly pick-up game at a local field for your child and their friends or teammates. Be careful not to take it too seriously, just let them have fun – you only need to be available to step in if there’s a conflict or someone gets hurt. The adults can have fun too just hanging out and chatting without feeling like your eyes need to be on the field every minute as during a regular season game. Order some pizzas for everyone after the game, have plenty of cold drinks on hand and this could become something that you and your kids look forward to week after week.

Staying cool

Let’s face it, there are going to be many days this summer when it’s just too darn hot for the kids to safely play outside for long periods of time. Although controversial for some, video games can be a good tool to help kids work on their mental understanding of the game. We pick up FIFA soccer every year and the kids absolutely love playing this game. From designing the most absurd looking players, to slide tackling every chance they get, they not only have fun but also learn to read the field of play and strategy (not to mention taking shots at rocket speed). Some interactive video games, such as Kinect, allow the physical play to be incorporated as well which gets them off the sofa.

Watch and learn

Euro 2012 soccer is underway on ESPN until the 1st of July, and the matches are incredibly fun and exciting to watch. Our kids love watching the games and my husband uses the matches as an opportunity to teach. When a great play is executed, or conversely falls short, he uses the DVR remote to pause and rewind and show the kids why the play worked and how to simulate that in their games, or why it didn’t work and what could have been done differently. When kids are playing in real time, the game is so fast and fluid that they don’t have much opportunity to watch and learn, so watching the best players in the world doing what they do best can be not only a useful teaching tool but a source of inspiration.

We are also Philadelphia Union season ticket holders, and going to the matches as a family solidifies and unites us in our love of the game. You can also buy tickets for individual games to fit around your schedule if season tickets aren’t right for you. It’s not only a really fun time but a great way for your kids to see the pros up close and personal. A majority of the games are also televised if you can’t make it to the game in person – check your local listings to see if your cable provider airs the games.

Don’t forget that the US women’s national soccer team will be competing at the 2012 Summer Olympic Games in London. The opening ceremonies are on July 27th and these women are nothing short of spectacular to watch. After taking the gold at the last two Olympics they are looking for a repeat this summer. There are a lot of male dominated sports (which I enjoy watching) but this is a fantastic opportunity for young female soccer players to see the best in the US compete and to see how far the sport can take them (the boys can learn a thing or two as well!).

I do think it’s important to keep your kids’ foot on the ball during the summer, not only so they can jump back into game mode in the fall but also to offset potential injuries as their competition levels increase. Keeping them excited and involved with soccer doesn’t have to feel like work – get creative and search for ways to keep them engaged, active, and passionate about the game and most importantly make it fun so they (and you) can recharge for the fall.

Upcoming youth soccer events

Here are some notable local youth soccer events around the area this week.

  • EPYSA’s cup finals will take place June 17 at Nether United Soccer Club in Wallingford. Click here for more details.
  • The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia and EPYSA will host a youth sports safety clinic on June 21 at 6:30 pm at Plymouth Whitemarsh High School in Plymouth Meeting. More details here.
  • EPYSA is hosting several summer day camps for youth soccer players. Click here for details.

One Comment

  1. Great article! I love the idea of promoting youth soccer!

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