Get up and start a pickup game

  • by Apr 1, 2010

By Paul Giovanopoulos

Are our kids playing enough pickup ball?

There have been countless articles written about this. While we all agree that this is not happening enough, many of us just sit back and hope it starts to happen somehow on its own.

We hope that somehow they start playing at the schoolyard at recess, or they come home to text their friends to go to the local park and play.

Today’s suburbia logistics probably would not allow for this. So maybe we can organize pickup soccer. I know many of you just started laughing as it goes against the philosophy of the pickup game. However there is merit to this.

I am taking the steps this spring and summer to organize a pickup soccer day. What I mean by this, is reach out to all the soccer players in the neighborhood, set a place and time, bring up cones, balls, bibs, and then leave them alone for 90 minutes.

They can break up into teams themselves, and just play. No parents or coaches providing any type of advice or thoughts. They can ref themselves, keep score and keep time limits on their games.

As a kid growing up in Greece, I remember I could not wait to run to the local park and be selected for a team to play with my friends.

It was only kids, and we pretended to be our local heroes playing the game. There were 22 refs on the field. Every play was contested. Every offside, every foul, even the how were teams selected.

At the end it was so much fun, we couldn’t wait to do it again the next day. So often today, all we do is structured training sessions. We are sucking the fun and creativity out of the most beautiful game in the world.

(Paul Giovanopoulos of Media, Pa., coaches the Rose Tree Gunners U13.)

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5 comments about "Get up and start a pickup game".
  1. Thomas Hosier, April 5, 2010 at 9:58 a.m.

    I believe Paul Giovanopoulos is on the mark! The main thing is consistency ... set the day, the time and the place and make it happen every week and the numbers will grow. It is true that many boys and girls are doing "many" things in addition to soccer ... the real soccer dudes and dudettes will find a way to the "pick-up play pitch." No coaching ... let them play!

  2. Paul Hansen, April 23, 2010 at 7:16 p.m.

    I have tried it off and on for the past couple of years. I've been so frustrated over all the structure in our kids soccer. It amounts to just practice, games or camps. I know of U13s who have been playing since U5 and have hardly played a game without a coach or parents giving input.

    Last year for my U11 team I started a pickup day for Sunday afternoons. This was during the competitive season. It was basically for the U11 age group but siblings were welcome as were kids from U10 & U9. I cut the age at that point because I was worried about little ones getting hurt. Parents were welcome to watch but were not allowed to talk to their kids. There was no coaching or officiating. The only thing I did was set up the fields (4v4) and did the drafting of players (names pulled from a hat). I kept it at 4v4 to encourage more touches. Every 20 minutes I would blow a whistle for team rotation. At the high point we had about 4 fields of 4v4.

    It was very interesting to observer the parents. Talking about control freaks! I had parents who simply could not watch their son play without "coaching" him -- so those parents had to leave. I told the parents this was the kids' time -- it was time for them to play simply for the love of the game.

    I tried to sell it to the parents as free child care. They could drop their kids and go have a few free hours. I stayed there as a safety monitor.

    The interesting and sad thing was the lack of support from those who I consider hyper-competitive. In the summer lots of kids could not come to pickup soccer because they had 3v3 league. I swear the parents picked 3v3 league simply because it was "competitive" -- it involved playing for medals. I had a friend who would not encourage his boys to come play pickup even though I pointed out his sons would get thousands upon thousands of more touches than they would in 3v3 league. He wasn't interested. I'm positive it was because it didn't involve him as a coach and it wasn't "competitive."

    Consider the difference between 3v3 league and pickup soccer. On a league night a team would have two 20 minute games. At six players a team, that amounted to 20 minutes of soccer per player. Sometimes a family would be at 3v3 for several hours because they would be playing in the early game and the late game. So for an investment of 3-4 hours a player would get 20 minutes of soccer. In contrast, pickup soccer was 2 hours of soccer, period. The kids took breaks for water but I never saw anyone quit playing due to fatigue. True, quite often a kid crawled to the car when it ended.

    I didn't continue it this year. I am sad to say I gave up on it. It was discouraging to set up the time and send out the email only to have a handful of players show up. One of the big problems was it wasn't pickup for the neighborhood. I had parents driving 10 miles to drop off their son. There are a lot of tough issues to overcome.

  3. Jeff Ginn, May 13, 2010 at 5:33 p.m.

    I currently coach 4 U10 teams. I am the Technical Director for my
    club. The club is in a town that has a population of around 65,000. It
    takes 30 minutes to drive from one end of the county to the other. The
    trick that I have found is that by having multiple locations for pick
    up games and various styles of pick up games the kids beg to play.
    All spring long my kids have been asking when they are going to play
    beach soccer (we play in volleyball courts), or street soccer (got to
    love the "calle" revolution. Play 3v3, 4v4, or 5v5. There are
    4 types of "pick up soccer" that I provide. 1) beach soccer, this
    is ridiculously attractive to players and parents because it is fun to
    play and REAL fun to watch). 2)street soccer. We find a local church
    parking lot (they are rarely used any other day than Sunday) and get a
    calle branded ball and play for hours. 3) play barefoot soccer on
    grass (I call this pele days). This improves their feel for the ball
    more than you can imagine. 4) just regular soccer. The trick is to
    organize it, show the kids how fun it is and then privately ask the
    players on the team to call their teammates and invite them to meet up
    for pick up games "by the end of the week." Last summer I would go to
    run pick up beach soccer and I'd have other teams from the club using
    the volleyball courts. We would simply adapt and head over to the
    parking lot for street soccer or head to the grass from "pele days" if
    people didn't bring equipment.

    In regards to the parents, during the Summer, if you do this during
    the day, try to make it during the lunch hours so the stay at home
    parent can invite the working parent to have a picnic at the park with
    them. The picnic idea is actually a real big success. The parents ge to
    spend some quality time together and they focus on catching up and
    eating so much that the kids playing is simply entertainment. It
    seriously works.

    A couple of rules for the parents: have to sit over 25 yards away "to
    avoid getting hit by a ball that may come out of play." And they can't
    address the players except to offer water or a snack when their child
    takes a break or their team is not on.

    The coaches role, get a lawn chair, hang out and get to know the
    parents better so they feel more comfortable asking questions
    regarding soccer, playing time, etc that they seem to be scared to
    approach us coaches about during the season. Big thing.. Make sure it
    is fun and let kids be kids... Argueing, fighting over throw ins and
    missed or made goals... That was some of the best parts of stick ball
    growing up... Arguing with the friends about fair or foul balls etc.

    One last thing, get the Pugg Goals or the Infinity goals made by
    KwikGoal. Its much more fun to have a net to shoot when they play small sided games.
    Hope this helps!

    P.S. A Sam Snow reply to me via email about indoor and other types of games:

  4. Jeff Ginn, June 30, 2010 at 6:33 p.m.

    Pick Up Soccer TWEET: U14 Premier & Select Girls playing #street #soccer thanks to @CalleRepublic. Multiple environments @infinitysoccer #futureUSnats

  5. Will Reeve, August 20, 2010 at 3:10 p.m.

    We did this very thing this past spring on Fridays after school. The response was awesome. Even kids that had not previously played were enticed into the fun and some have now registered for fall recreational ball.

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