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Sunday, June 04, 2006

Dignan's World Cup Daily: American Soccer Maturation

As Applejack mentioned, I am a huge football/soccer fan. I started playing soccer when I was 6, played youth soccer that included a few traveling teams, was invited to try out for the Jr. Olympic team, and played in the Atlanta men's amateur league up until a few years ago.

Of course, playing youth soccer in the late '70s and into the '80s had its challenges. And the biggest challenge I believe was coaching. Like most youth sports, soccer teams generally utilized player's fathers as coaches, at least at the lower levels. However, unlike baseball or football, it was the rare father who had grown up playing the sport that they were coaching.

As a result, those teams that had coaches who had played soccer themselves tended to be among the best teams. Much of what typified American youth soccer at the time was what I would call "kickball". It was quite common for a team to kick the ball down field as far as they could and send the fastest players after it, hoping to beat the other team to the goal. Of course, some of this is inevitable for younger and inexperienced players.

One only has to take a look back at late '80s and early '90s US National soccer teams to see that we had raised a generation of players that didn't really understand the art of the game. Much of the play by the national team during this time reminded me of the "kickball" of my youth: poor passing with little imagination.

But my how things have changed. Youth soccer in America has taken a leap forward primarily because people like myself who group up playing soccer are now coaching kids how to really play the game.

I was thrilled in 2002 to finally see the US National team play soccer as it is meant to be played. Not just relying on superior athletes or conditioning. But playing smart. Playing the Beautiful Game!

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