Playing for the joy of it: Pick-up soccer

By Caroline Kostecky

I slipped on my David Beckham soccer jersey, threw my hair up in a messy ponytail and quickly tied my cleats. I needed to be there right away. I wasn't late, I just already felt like I was missing it, the field, the goal, everything.

I met my friend halfway, (not even talking), we sped to the fields, we were both anxious to play. Kids all of ages were there, some younger, others older. ...

We're all different, play differently. Most of us aren’t even friends, but that’s what brings us closer.

In soccer, it doesn’t matter who’s who. We don’t care if we have pinnies or not, even goals don’t matter. Sometimes you just have to improvise because you don’t always have everything you need.

If you don’t have a goal, use two shoes as posts instead. All you need for soccer are players and a ball. The more the merrier.

Sometimes, groups of people show up, other times, very few. But that's the game; you can’t expect things to happen, you just play through it.

Here is where I belong. It's my home. The sport isn’t something I do for exercise, I play for the joy of it.

Goals are what everyone loves. Sometimes, I score a couple of goals, other times very few. But it doesn’t matter, because I'm playing, and that's the best gift. We aren’t sad when the other team scores, because it's just for fun, and here nothing else matters.

Here, it's about making mistakes, and learning to grow from them. When the younger kids get frustrated, it's our job (as the older kids) to help them, and give them pointers. I practice my skills that I’m not comfortable doing in games. I try them out here. Soccer is different. When I play I get the best feeling in my stomach, because this is where I belong and I am comfortable.

This isn’t like a game on my travel team, or a hard soccer practice, this is pick-up … where we can try out new things, and laugh and sing while we're playing. It's where all who show up have to be comfortable, or there's no point in playing.

Sometimes, we don’t have enough players, but it’s OK, because we can still play. While we play, we become closer, like a real team. We switch around players when one team is dominating so that it's fair.

This is where I can try out new things, and help others along the way as well, because this is pick-up soccer, not some physical, rough game.

It's just for fun. But it's the best, because here, on the field, is where I belong, and I can do anything.

(Caroline Kostecky is a 13-year-old who plays her pick-up soccer in Fair Haven, N.J. She also plays for New Jersey club PDA’s Arsenal.)

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10 comments about "Playing for the joy of it: Pick-up soccer ".
  1. Fidel Colman, June 28, 2011 at 12:01 p.m.

    Caroline is right on (and very wise for a 13 year old) - I'll be 47 this year & I have been playing in competitive leagues for most of my adult life, but nothing feels a good for the soul as a friendly pick up game - I remember playing "Anarchy Soccer" w/friends in Detroit a few summers back - no out of bounds, no corners, no goalies, no soccer attire required (some played in their cut off jeans & combat boots), all sexes, ages, races and creeds - It was a great day!

  2. Kent James, June 28, 2011 at 12:43 p.m.

    Great article Caroline. If we had more youth players doing what you're doing, we'd have better players than Mexico (the men's team). The other great thing about pick-up, that you probably haven't experienced, is that you can go almost anywhere in the world and find a game. And if you let your skills do the talking, everyone speaks the same language. Your attitude and willingness to play with anyone, anywhere, under any circumstances will serve you well.

  3. J Poppen, June 28, 2011 at 12:47 p.m.

    What's sad is that many club fields that have goals set up do not allow kids/people to drop by for pick up games. My boys on numerous occasions have been asked to leave fields, in order to protect the turf. Very, very disappointing on a lot of levels.

  4. cony konstin, June 28, 2011 at 1:03 p.m.

    This is the REVOLTION that soccer needs in the USA. Caroline continue to be the Patrick Henry of US soccer. In the end it is all about the beautiful game.

  5. Paul Lorinczi, June 28, 2011 at 2:30 p.m.

    Caroline is right. I was at a local club and tried unsuccessfully to get the club to run pick up soccer games. No one ever showed up. If it wasn't an organized practice, parents would not bring their kids.

  6. Guenther Rieder, June 28, 2011 at 3:06 p.m.

    My daughter plays street soccer at a local bubble
    I have seen her improve so much because of this
    Calm on the ball, smile on the face!!!

  7. Richard Weishaupt, June 28, 2011 at 3:43 p.m.

    I live within a half mile of 8 nicely manicured soccer fields. None will allow people to play pick up games. On the other hand people can play all night long at basketball courts. That's why Americans are good at basketball and so so at soccer. You can't play in a play ground if you don't have one on one moves but our soccer players just don't have those skills.

    I have seen the parental bias against pick up games that Paul describes -- they don't count because it's not a league. You think kids in Brazil or Mexico get good playing 12 games a year?

  8. Rick Figueiredo, June 29, 2011 at 12:21 p.m.

    What a great article! And Caroline is 13 years old. Wisdom that should be followed by those older. I feel the same way and I am 61. I grew up in the streets of Rio and every day we would go out after school and play from 4 till 8 when my mom would call me in for dinner. The best time in my life. I tell the players I train that when you step on that field, for training or for games, or for pick-up games, all the problems of the world disappear. What a miracle. And you, Caroline, have been fortunate enough to realize this! Good for you. RICK FIGUEIREDO.

  9. g s, June 29, 2011 at 5:05 p.m.

    But how can the kids succeed without parents screaming their heads off? And micromanaging every step they make and touch they get? How can these players ever develop without intense pressure, criticism, and youth soccer rage?

    Perhaps the coach or organizer could play a soundtrack over a boombox of a bunch of moron parents howling like banshees at the refs and the coach and the kids and the other parents. Then, only then, will we get things back to normal.

  10. Andres Yturralde, June 29, 2011 at 9:37 p.m.

    "In soccer, it doesn’t matter who’s who. We don’t care if we have pinnies or not, even goals don’t matter. Sometimes you just have to improvise because you don’t always have everything you need." These are beautiful words, Caroline. All the best to you!

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