Surviving the basics of soccer

September 25, 1997|By Kevin Cowherd

THIS FALL, I find myself coaching my son Jamie's soccer team, a gritty bunch of 6- and 7-year-olds whose motto seems to be: "We enjoy being kicked in the groin."

I say this because before every practice, our players warm up the same way: One kid gets in the goal and the other 10 kids blast shots at him from point-blank range.

Now to me, taking even one 25-mph shot to the groin is too much.

But this poor kid in goal, he'll take three, four, five shots to the groin during a typical warm-up -- not to mention shots to the face and stomach, too.

Then another kid will jump in goal and the rest of the team will start blasting point-blank shots at this kid.

Anyway, despite this curious warm-up routine, our team, the Red Rockets, is having a fine season.

If I were to distill our coaching philosophy down to its essence, it would be: "Let's kick the ball that way," meaning toward the other team's goal.

This is because neither Steve O'Brien, our co-coach, nor I know much about soccer.

To me, this is like giving two guys who know nothing about cars a Buick with a blown engine and saying: "OK, make that baby hum."

Then again, the beauty of coaching soccer at this level is that you don't have to know anything.

You're basically teaching the kids "the fundamentals": kicking, passing, trapping, etc. You're also teaching them that -- maybe not now, but later in life -- they will want to avoid taking 25-mph shots to the groin.

I know it's early in the season, but right now our players seem to be having difficulty with the concept of "playing your position."

I say this because every time Steve and I look, there are 10 of our guys trying to kick the ball.

"Look, you defenders, you have to stay back to help the goalie!" Steve shouted during our last scrimmage.

But apparently he issued these instructions in Portuguese. Because the next time we looked up, all three defenders were gone.

I think two of them were in the parking lot, trying to find the ice cream man.

The good news is that we have a lot of fine players and in our first game, we hustled and scrapped and came away with a solid 3-0 victory over the white team.

Or else we lost 9-2 to the blue team. To be honest with you, it was a little confusing out there.

There were about 20 kids from both teams around the ball at all times, and there were parents screaming and whistles blowing and dogs barking and toddlers wandering across the field, and I really couldn't keep track of what the heck was going on.

As we prepare for our second game, the goalkeeper position is a source of some concern.

Normally, the way it works at this level, a coach will say: "Who wants to play goalie?' and all the kids will raise their hands and shout: "Me! Me!"

So you put one kid in goal and he does fine, makes a few saves, has a good time -- until he takes a ball at 25 mph in the throat and limps off.

"Who wants to play goalie?" you say again, and this time only, oh, eight of the kids shoot their hands in the air and shout: "Me! Me!"

So you put another kid in goal and he has a good time, too -- until he dives for a ball and someone on the other team accidentally kicks him in the mouth and he limps off, too.

Meanwhile, of course, the rest of the team is watching all this carnage and thinking: "You know, this whole goalie business might be overrated ..."

If I could use an analogy, it's like being in an infantry unit and seeing two of your buddies mowed down by enemy machine-gun fire, then hearing your platoon sergeant bark: "OK, who else wants to take that hill?"

It may reach the point where we have to hand out $10 gift certificates toward the purchase of a Nintendo game in order to get someone in goal.

But we'll cross that bridge when we come to it.

For now, it's just good to see how focused the team is.

You could see it in their eyes when we were going over corner kicks and I asked if anyone had any questions.

One boy raised his hand and asked: "Who would win in a fight, a stegosaurus or a Tyrannosaurus rex?"

I said a Tyrannosaurus rex, but that was strictly a guess.

Pub Date: 9/25/97

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