Living on a soccer kick

Passion: A love of the game leads to venture of teaching moms and tots for Laurel resident.

Howard At Play

November 16, 2003|By Lowell E. Sunderland | Lowell E. Sunderland,SUN STAFF

Rick Crow is one of those people whose love for soccer is best described as passionate.

In 1997, that passion led him to quit an apparently secure job as a government translator of Spanish to try wringing out a living as a soccer entrepreneur. It is a pursuit he modified this fall by, at age 47, taking a teaching job -- teaching Spanish to elementary schoolchildren in Glenarden, in Prince George's County.

It is also a pursuit, now part time but consuming most of his weekends, that has earned him a reputation in Howard County soccer circles as guru to hundreds of mothers of children in the sport, not to mention many of their children.

In 1999, Crow realized that more than a few of those soccer moms -- tired of being a political catch phrase and of being chauffeurs for their kids -- would like to play the sport.

Better, they would pay to learn how to play.

That led to Soccer Moms, a program Crow estimates has gotten about 800 women playing the sport, enough to have many in the multiple skill levels of the Howard County Women's League.

"I know in the D Division this fall, there was at least one of my former students on each of the eight teams," Crow said. "Most teams had more than that, and I think one of them was all players who began in Soccer Moms. And there are a lot more in the higher divisions."

The Moms led, in 1999, to his involvement as coaching adviser in another program called Soccer Tots, which was formed by two women. Soccer Tots introduces the sport to children as young as 3. Soccer Moms and Soccer Tots have evolved now, said Crow, who lives in Laurel, into programs he helps direct at Soccer Dome in Jessup.

He also has officiated games since 1990, outdoors and indoors, including high school games. He is maybe best recognized indoors in Columbia -- sometimes calling as many as a dozen games a day.

He has written for the Maryland State Youth Soccer Association about the sport from the youth to national-team levels. He also has promoted ticket sales to professional games.

When he quit his government job, Crow said, "My goal was to make soccer the No. 1 sport, but I woke up one day not so long ago and realized that I have to look out for myself, too. I didn't want to become a martyr for the game."

His passion for soccer is rooted, he said, in the 1970 World Cup, when he was young, and his father was at General Motors working his third year in Mexico City.

"It was Pele's last Cup," Crow said, "and even though I was very young, we saw some games, and I remember the World Cup just taking over the country."

His venture into soccer as a business has provided him with some interesting insights into teaching the sport and making it grow. A sampling:

On teaching 3- and 4-year-olds: "I don't know of any other sport that you can start teaching so young. We had some guidelines on how to teach, of course, but we've also learned a lot -- from the kids and our instructors -- just by doing.

"You give every child a ball, and all you do is teach skills. You build on what they bring, which is energy. Make everything fun, but not a soccer game. You can race with the ball, dribble the ball, follow the leader with the ball, "find Nemo" with the ball -- create an environment that's fun. You show them how to touch the ball with various parts of the foot -- draw a T moving the ball with a foot, an A, the number 3.

"It's constant activity. For kids up to, oh, 8 or 9, winning or losing isn't important. So what we do is never competitive, but what we're beginning to see now, with those first kids turning 7 or 8 is that some of them feel really comfortable with the ball, however they're moving, and they're becoming very good soccer players."

On teaching moms: "They're what every teacher wants -- they've paid to learn, and they're all ears. The kids never listen; the moms want to learn. They want to play.

"A lot get into wanting to learn formations and tactics too quickly. I tell them, `Let's learn skills first, because if you can beat your opponent one-on-one and then play together, the tactics take care of themselves.'

"It's also important to begin playing games quickly, even though they make a lot of mistakes, which is to be expected. But playing a game for adults makes them understand things better."

On officiating: "Youngsters who take up officiating often improve as players. I'd like to see more of them do it.

"The reason you improve is that in officiating, you have to anticipate what's going to happen, by reading a player's body position, for example. You see the game differently -- what works and what doesn't -- and when you go play, you have a better understanding of why, say, the first touch of the ball is so important to what happens next.

"But I've been told by kids they'd rather make less money elsewhere because of the abuse officials take. ... I really think that there's less abuse these days."

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