By Terry Jacoby
U.S. Soccer’s mission statement includes a very important section about growing the sport here in the United States: “To make soccer, in all its forms, a preeminent sport in the United States and continue the development of all recreational and competitive levels.”
While a lot of young players grow up dreaming of being the next Landon Donovan or Clint Dempsey or Tim Howard, reaching close to that level occurs for only a few. There is nothing wrong with chasing your dream and trying to be the best you can be and playing at the highest level one can reach.
There also is nothing wrong with playing soccer for the fun of the sport. According to a study by the Sports & Fitness Industry Association, there are 2.3 million kids between the ages of 6-12 playing soccer in the United States. And many of these kids are just playing because they enjoy the sport, like hanging out with their friends while their parents want them away from the video games for a few hours a week.
Recreational soccer is a huge kick for youngsters all over the country for many reasons. The benefits also are numerous as these young players get to learn and appreciate the game and hopefully become fans of the sport as they get older. This will help towards making soccer a “preeminent sport in the United States.”
Virginia is for lovers (of soccer)
The Virginia Beach Field House can be a very chaotic place, especially on a Saturday morning in the winter. The facility, located in Virginia Beach, Va., hosts as many as 250 youth soccer teams during their busy winter season and many of the players are participating in the recreational leagues, an important way to teach the great game of soccer through fun and fundamentals.
“It gets a little crazy here on Saturday mornings,” said Angel Horowitz, the assistant general manager at VBFH. “We start at 6:50 in the morning and go to about 11:30 at night on Saturday. We have the same start time on Sundays but end at about 9:30 at night.”
The $15 million Virginia Beach Field House, which opened in 2010, is a 175,000-square-foot indoor facility featuring two small turf fields, four large turf fields as well as volleyball and basketball courts. They offer both competitive and recreational soccer for both boys and girls U10-U18. The winter season is the biggest in terms of participation with three divisions: Recreational, Advanced and Competitive.
“Where they go is based on how they do during the outdoor season,” Horowitz said. “If they played competitive outdoors, then that’s what they would play indoors. Recreational is the less competitive of the three while competitive is the most competitive.”
Horowitz, who estimates that 25 percent of all registrations for youth soccer are on the recreational side, says they have seen a decline in the number of competitive players.
“One of our goals for this year is to reach out more to the recreational players because that’s where it’s at for us at this point,” she said. “A lot of the clubs are trying to run their own facilities for indoor now so they can keep the money in-house. We still have a high number of club and competitive teams here because our facility does have the turf fields.”
Horowitz, a former college soccer player, says offering recreational soccer in the winter not only helps grow the sport she fell in love with herself but also gives these kids a chance to have some fun with the game.
“Even for those kids playing competitively, indoor soccer in the winter should be for fun,” she said. “And I try to make sure the coaches in all the divisions understand that. It’s a time to have some fun and maybe try playing a different position or just have a chance to fool around with their friends so it’s not so structured that they get burned out by the time they are in high school.”
Playing recreational soccer is more than “Noble” idea
The Noblesville United Soccer Club, a volunteer, community-based organization in Noblesville, Ind., plays by the simple rules of affordability, accessibility, learning the fundamentals and having fun playing the great game of soccer.
“I think a value we see in our program is the community that it builds,” says Jose Torres of the NUSC. “Our players come from various elementary schools in Noblesville, but eventually funnel into one of two middle schools and one high school. We hear and see the relationships they have built on the soccer ﬁeld come together in the schools as they grow up. We enjoy that the game of soccer brings family and friends together throughout the seasons.”
NUSC oﬀers Rec Soccer for boys and girls of all ages. For a more competitive game, they also oﬀer a Rec Plus program for U10 and up. They have two seasons (fall and spring) and pride themselves on being a great place to learn fundamental soccer skills and grow to love the game of soccer.
“Because we are a rec soccer program we want to make sure all players learn the fundamental skills and have fun in the process,” says Torres. “We also want to develop our players for the next level of soccer which is why we also oﬀer rec plus. Rec plus is for our players who are ready for a more competitive level of play against other rec-plus teams from both our club and other local clubs with rec-plus teams.”
At NUSC, players who are interested in the rec-plus program go through a skills-evaluation process. These teams are coached by a volunteer, but also work with a licensed coach on a weekly basis.
NUSC sees incredible value and importance of rec soccer.
“Recreational programs help players create and build friendships both in and out of the program,” Torres says. “It is a great way to work on overall athleticism and learn the basics of the game without intense competitive play. A rec program helps build a solid foundation of a sport by starting with basic skills and knowledge of the game. This helps get them to the next level of play and develop their talents.”
NUSC features 1,000-1,200 participants per season.
“A key part to any rec program is understanding the importance of families and volunteers; as well as the players,” Torres says. “Making a sport accessible and aﬀordable should always be important. Allowing families to participate by volunteering on the ﬁeld or around the club is another key element to a successful rec program.”