Why Backyard Soccer is Important
In the youth club soccer landscape in America, the emphasis often times seems improperly skewed towards what is best for the club programs and coaches rather than the individual players and their development.
Go to any random field on a weekend to catch a youth game, and you’ll surely hear the coach barking commands, dictating every players’ decisions, and yelling “pass the ball!”. There is little room for player creativity, ingenuity, and risk-taking. So then, where does a child learn to dribble like Messi, nutmeg like Neymar, and throw a drag-and-scissor move like Ronaldo?
The answer: Backyard soccer!
Competitive club soccer games are typically, and unfortunately, pressure-filled environments for youth players. Whether the pressure comes intrinsically from the players’ desire to not make mistakes and win the game, or extrinsically from over-caffeinated parents and coaches on the sideline screaming at every lost possession.
More often than not, club soccer games are not the environment young players need to practice their individual skill moves and have the freedom to make mistakes with no consequences. Thus, backyard soccer comes into play as an essential learning environment for youth soccer players to hone in on their fakes, moves, and jukes!
Playing pick-up games with friends and teammates outside of the confined, organized structure of actual contests creates an environment where the player can focus on fun, inventive tricks and ideas and not worry about the wrath that will come by trying new things in official matches. Playing in the backyard, a young boy can try a move he’s seen his favorite player do, most likely mess it up, and it’s all in good fun. Try and try again, young grasshopper!
In pick-up ball, a girl can just go out and do her thing, try and get as many nutmegs as her heart desires like her idol, Tobin Heath. In an era of limited attention spans and need for instant gratification, with more focus being placed on video games and Instagram and less emphasis on playing in the great outdoors, backyard soccer is in desperate need of a revival.
As all youth sports are becoming specialized at younger and younger ages, with more training sessions, games, and tournaments each passing year, finding the time and opportunity for children to go out and play simply for the joy of it is diminishing. This is a fatal flaw in the system, and the unstructured, positionless, and coaching-free pick-up soccer games need to regain their importance in the youth soccer environment.
Television soccer pundits are always harping on the lack of offensive creativity in American players at the international level. On any given Saturday, you will hear the discussion on soccer TV talk shows about how the Red, White and Blue are in need of a crafty, dynamic attacking midfielder this week, or a skilled, agile winger the next. Well, the next American prodigy could very well be on the way, my only hope is that he or she is currently honing their craft in the school of backyard soccer.