Over the summer, I signed up Abby for GEYA Soccer, based on the appeal of her experience in their spring soccer program, which she really enjoyed. I didn't realize what we'd ultimately be getting into.
The fall soccer season is apparently not a popular one among "sporty" types. The sporty kids seem to rotate their sport experience each season. I'm not sure what the girls play in the fall, but they seem to leave the soccer field either for other sports or for other pursuits. A similar thing happens to the boys soccer program in the fall, since a good number of boys leave the soccer program to participate in fall football. The end result is that not enough players were signed up for fall soccer to have separate leagues for boys and girls at Abby's age group, and so the leagues combined for co-ed teams.
The co-ed teams were not so bad. There were so few boys playing that between the five teams, each team was only allocated 3-4 boys. Still, the aggression in the boys' play compared to the girls was apparent on the field, and at least for the first half of the season, the boys and girls avoided being near each other on the field during play, resulting in some humorous moments. One referee explicitly told one of our girls, "I won't call it if you trip a boy." That kind of thing.
Another downside of a diminished roster besides the small number of teams was the lack of coaches. I assume that most of the "sporty" kids have "sporty" parents who follow them to whatever sport they're playing and help coach those teams. Just before the onset of the fall season, the league sent out an email to all parents suggesting that if nobody volunteered to coach, then the five teams would be reduced to four, and that would be bad for the team sizes.
Thinking that I'd really like Abby to get a real chance to take the field, I replied to the email and volunteered to coach a team. Yeah, crazy like that.
Luckily, (since I don't know anything about soccer) another parent with soccer and coaching experience volunteered to coach the team, too. I think the reason they needed more coaches is because (as seems reasonable) not every coach can make every game. And if there's only one coach, it's hard to field a team when the coach can't attend the game. Anyway, I ended up not doing much, but simply helping out where I could -- running drills, herding kids, setting up cones, etc.
I have to admit, attending the games was something I looked forward to most for the past couple months. Our team had some really good players; some willing, but inexperienced players; and some unwilling and inexperienced players. We tried to encourage everyone to play their best and get them all playing well together.
The thing I'm most proud of in my coaching experience is something that seems pretty trivial, but it's more than what it seems, and it makes me happy: I was able to remember all of the kids' names. I thought it would be much harder. I think my ability to remember all of their names indicates my own commitment to participation. I find it hard to explain, but in spite of our team's record (I think we won maybe two games all season), it was an oddly rewarding experience for me.
How did Abby do? Abby started out the season pretty strong for her experience level. Being in the middle age of the range (6th-8th graders) gave her a slight leg up this season, having been on the young side for her spring soccer team. Unlike the spring, Abby frequently played ball for the whole game, many times as a mid-fielder, running up and down the field like a madman. I think last season and running in the summer really helped her performance this year.
Toward the end of the season, it seemed like she was waning a bit. There are obvious ball skills that she has yet to master. Too frequently, she'd run full-speed to a ball only to miss kicking it entirely and having it stolen from her. Sadly, this is the kind of thing that she'd be able to improve on with practice; practice that the team didn't have time for -- the season was two practices at the beginning, and then entirely games.
Abby did do soccer clinic on Friday afternoons through the season. They practiced ball-handling skills for an hour. This was not part of the team exercise, but something that she signed up for separately. It helped a bit, but regular practice with the team would have been more helpful.
There were a lot of things that the team needed to work on that seem to be a recurring theme with soccer players at this age and skill level. The biggest thing that they all needed to work on was the concept of "one to the ball", meaning that only one player should play on the ball. We were constantly telling the kids to "spread out". They'd all stand next to each other and wonder why there was never anyone to pass the ball to. Of course, getting some of the kids (particularly the boys, who often seemed to think that the girls were just some moving obstacles for them on the field) to pass the ball at all was a trial. Setting up and discovering passing lanes, shooting the ball at the far post, and dribbling/ball control were also things that everyone needed to work on.
Abby and I went to see one of Paige and Sienna's games in the middle of Abby's season. Watching those two girls and their team work was an enlightening experience for us both. I would love to encourage Abby to the point were she could play soccer like that.
Abby is certainly going to play soccer in the spring, and we've already signed her up for a winter indoor clinic. The big question at this point is whether I will sign up for coaching again. In the spring, there are bound to be more competent coaches available, and the teams should be all-girl as the boys return from football to the spring soccer league. I think it would be a lot of fun to continue to coach, even to take some classes of my own on coaching and soccer, just so I can better learn how to bring the team along.
In all, it was a fun experience. I think the only real downside was that the season conflicted significantly with Riley's baseball games, which I would have liked to be more involved in. Since Riley's team only had one official coach, it would have been nice to commit to helping out his team with a sport that I have actually played before and knew well enough to teach. We'll see what Riley wants to do in the spring, whether baseball or soccer (he's wanting to sign up for the same winter soccer training program as Abby), and maybe decide what to do from there, since as with fall vs spring soccer, baseball tends to be more popular in the spring as well, bringing with it more experienced and enthusiastic coaches.