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Kids playing on their own: Juggling...

Reprinted from Soccer America Youth Soccer Insider
March 15, 2020
By Mike Woitalla

Juggling develops skill and provides fun with the ball


Pele  juggled with a grapefruit or a ball of old rags tied together with string when he didn't have a real soccer ball available. He later reflected that juggling helped him develop control with his left foot, concentration, balance and touch, both gentle and hard. While Rose Lavelle  was helping the USA win the 2019 World Cup, she recalled how backyard play, just her "having fun with the ball," contributed to her current skills and creativity on the field.

For beginners -- balloons and beach balls

Juggling is difficult. It requires sophisticated coordination of balance and touch to send the ball on a path convenient for the next touch. With a regular soccer ball, that means missing the ball's relatively small sweet spot sends it too far away for the next contact. One way to encourage beginners to juggle is to have them try with something easy, like a small beach ball or even a balloon. With a regular soccer ball, letting the ball bounce on the floor or grass between touches can be a good entry phase.

Set goals, consider rewards

One thing that makes juggling fun is to set goals: from 5 to 10, to 20, etc. Reaching those creates a sense of accomplishment, juggling gets more fun, and usually improvement begins to increase exponentially. Parents or coaches offering prizes when certain numbers are reached offer extra motivation. In my childhood, it was running into the house from the backyard with joy to announce I'm due a quarter -- $1.60 in 2020 money -- from dad. Coaching preteens I set a team goal, adding up every player's record to reach a number that promised a post-game ice cream party. Coaches can set up an online doc for kids to take pride in their progress.

From thigh to foot

I've seen some coaches insist that kids have to begin juggling with no-hands, ball on the ground, but I believe that should depend on the individual skill level. You want the start to be as easy as possible. Such as dropping the ball on the thigh, counting thigh touches, and using the feet when the ball drops down. Or starting by dropping the ball to the foot. As the kids progress, the challenges can be more complex. But starting with thigh juggles can help build confidence.

Once it's obvious the young player is building confidence and enjoying juggling, the challenges can be foot-only counts, or alternating right foot-left foot counts.

But I recommend not interfering much into how the kids approach it. The aim is for them to build a relationship with the ball and find enjoyment on their own terms. There's a video of a 10-year-old Leo Messi juggling 100-plus times only with his left foot and left thigh. He turned into a pretty good player.

Right foot, left foot

Coaching players to improve their weaker foot at practice is a difficult task. You can place restrictions during game-like exercises, like shooting with only your weaker foot. But do you want a player to awkwardly adjust for a weak-foot shot when the pass was delivered to the strong foot?  Or take a poor shot during a game with the weak foot rather than take an extra touch for a better shot? Also, young players don't enjoy failing miserably in front of peers or what they perceive, rightfully or not, the judgmental coach who's contemplating the weekend's starting lineup.

The best time for kids to work on their weaker foot is on their own, whether that's passing and shooting against a wall, or juggling. If you can juggle 10 or 20 times with your right foot, try 5 or 10 with your left foot. Alternating feet when you juggle is excellent practice. And even if kids aren't trying to use the weaker foot, juggling naturally challenges them to do so.

Different types of balls

With NerfPoof-Slinky or others types of soft balls, kids can juggle, or play off the wall, inside the house. Volleyballs can be fun for juggling, and I really like the Coop hydro balls, which are designed for water play. They’re soft enough to juggle indoors with minimal risk of causing damage -- although I don't recall ever interviewing a great player who never broke something in the house -- perfect for barefoot play, and, of course, great to bring to the beach. For advanced players, there's the Hacky Sack, tennis balls.

I don't know the science on how juggling different types of balls may be beneficial, but doing so is something that great players have in common. Even superstar Messi, with unlimited access to soccer balls, can't resist mixing it up.

The Newspaper Ball

Combine art and soccer by making a paper ball -- with newspaper, or what ever scrap paper is available in the tablet age. The first piece needs to be crumpled up and squeezed tightly, because that's the core. Wrap more sheets around the core and tape a big cross around the orb. Athletic tape is best, but masking tape will work. Add more sheets of paper. Then wrap tape around it until you can't see any of the paper. Kids can use colored markers to decorate the ball. Then can juggle or play against the wall with their custom-made ball, which because of its limited spring can be used indoors.

The Brandi Chastain Challenge

"Casual skill sessions don’t have to last for hours. Even 15 minutes a day of juggling or footwork can be a significant addition when compounded over time. ... Try this ultimate challenge. It’s called 720, and here’s why. Using these 12 ball-juggling surfaces (laces/instep of both feet, outside of the feet, inside of the feet, thighs, chest, shoulders, head) and keeping the ball up in the air, use as many of those surfaces as you can in 60 seconds. Multiply the number of surfaces you successfully use (at least once), by the number of seconds you keep the ball up. Your maximum scored would be 12 x 60 = 720."

-- From “It’s Not About the Bra: How to Play Hard, Play Fair, and Put the Fun Back into Competitive Sports” by Brandi Chastain with Gloria Averbuch.

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Game Day Reminders

Full uniform, including alternate shirt for all games
Shinguards providing an appropriate level of protection, covered by socks
Soccer cleats (not baseball or other illegal spikes)
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Code of Conduct

The Player . . .
1. Treats opponents, teammates and coaches and referees with respect. Plays hard, but plays within the rules of the game of soccer.
2. Plays hard, but plays within the rules of the game of soccer.
3. Demonstrates self-control.
4. Respects the officials and accepts their decisions without gesture or argument.
5. Wins without boasting, loses without excuses and never quits.
6. Remembers that it is a privilege to represent Northern Counties Soccer Association.
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CLUB SOCCER IN COLLEGE

Reprinted from Soccer America
June 18, 2020

College club soccer provides well-balanced option for competitive players -- plus management experience

 

by Arlo Moore-Bloom

 

In the intercollegiate club soccer world, teams are student-run, funds are minimal, scholarships are in absentia, and the stakes are relatively low. What there is an abundance of is fun.

Many high schoolers don’t know what college club soccer is when they enroll in a university. Freshmen who explore their campuses in those orienteering days of early fall often hear about tryouts through word of mouth or through Facebook pages. And the club soccer universe they encounter — if they make the team, of course — often becomes the bedrock of their collegiate experience.

College club soccer teams are university-sanctioned teams that compete against other colleges on a regional and national level; they are the bridge between intramural sports and varsity athletics. Todd Heil, coach of the women's club team at UC Santa Barbara, has won eight national championships since he started coaching the program in 2000.

“For me, it’s about the relationships that we build,” Heil says. “Many of our athletes come into our school knowing no one, and they leave with like 16 best friends. At the end of the day, I love who we are and the national championships that we’ve won, but I wouldn’t trade the friendships our girls have made for any of them. The relationships are priceless.”

It’s a sentiment shared across the nationwide community of college club soccer teams — one that has grown tremendously over the last 25 years. NIRSA, the sports’ governing body, held the first national championship in 1994, drawing 15 teams and around 300 male and female players. UC Santa Barbara was one of the first West Coast teams amid a landscape that featured mostly East Coast and mid-Atlantic teams.

“Back in the day, you didn’t have weekly rankings from NIRSA,” says Heil, who also coaches the boys team for more than two decades at Santa Barbara High School, where he teaches social science and history teacher. “We didn’t have regionals. There were about six club teams on the West Coast and NIRSA picked three to go to nationals.”

Fast forward 20 years. More than 2,000 players poured in from around the country to Round Rock, Texas, to compete in the men's and women's national championships and the open divisions. There are over 230 men and women’s club teams in Region 1 — which includes all schools east of Ohio and north of West Virginia — alone.

The qualification process for the national championships includes a 10-game fall season and at least a third-place finish at a regional tournament (there are six regions across the continent). The rise in teams speaks to college club soccer’s appealing environment — as well the residual effects of youth soccer’s explosion in the 1980s and 90s.

“Once you get the ball rolling, once a couple schools get a program, other people go, ‘Oh wow, I would love to have that opportunity as well at my university,” Heil says. “So, it has a domino effect. You would be hard pressed today to find a school that didn’t have a club soccer program.”

One reason for the growth is that so many girls and boys who leave the soccer landscape of their childhood with years of extensive experience in the sport. And many are not ready to give up competitive soccer. But opportunities in NCAA soccer are limited and even if students are good enough they may prefer a less stringent commitment to sports.

Varsity soccer enforces a rigid lifestyle where balancing academic freedom, a social life, extracurricular activities, and a healthy sleep schedule is challenging. On the other side of the spectrum, the lack of competition, organization, and sportsmanship that define intramural sports makes experienced soccer players look elsewhere for the beautiful game. Put simply, club soccer is the Goldilocks of the collegiate soccer landscape – just the right amount.

The student-run club teams operate largely outside of the purview of athletic departments. Students schedule their games, design their own jerseys, fund their own travel, and designate team traditions that are passed down year after year.

“I may be the coach, but when it comes to the administrative stuff, that’s really on the girls,” Heil says. “That they’re at their events, that they’re participating in philanthropy, that they’re doing their fundraising, that’s 100% the girls. It’s really a partnership between the two of us; I’m taking care of the soccer stuff, and they take care of the rest.”

NIRSA, the sport’s governing body, has few guidelines on how to run a team: it helps students start teams at their school, and that’s about it. Instead, NIRSA focuses its resources on the regional and national infrastructure by which club teams can compete.

Teams used to wait for emails from NIRSA to see if they had qualified for nationals. Now, NIRSA officials perform a livestream draw, World Cup style. But it’s NIRSA’s hands-off approach that has made club soccer so appealing to so many students.

“Club soccer is interesting because it requires college students to take on a lot of the behind-the-scenes organizing,” Andrew Bracken, a captain for Tufts University’s club team. “NIRSA does a great job at forming the leagues and setting up club leaders with clear guidelines. But at the same time, all members must take on more responsibility and care for the team to ensure that a season can be played successfully.”

The flexibility NIRSA affords its participating teams means that no club soccer team is the same. The diversity adds to the fun: ideas bounce around regions and schools adopt them as they see fit. Some schools have professionally trained coaches. Some don’t. Teams at smaller schools usually work closely with their athletic departments to create the experience they want to have. Teams at larger schools often operate more independently.

“For teams that don’t have a coach, that student leadership group is a lot more responsible in the sense of taking care of the team top to bottom,” Heil says. “Game management, travel, player management, scheduling, all of that.”

What is consistent is that talent abounds in collegiate club soccer. Alan Merrick, who during his 25-year pro career in England and the USA played against Pele with teammates such as Steve Highway, Ace Ntsoelengoe and Wim Suurbier, has coached college club soccer at the University of Minnesota since 1999.

The University of Minnesota launched its women's D1 program in 1993 but the Title IX scale prevented the start of a varsity men's team -- and there's no men’s NCAA D1 program in the entire state.

"It's unfortunate because we have a great talent pool in Minnesota," Merrick says. "We have players who had options to play NCAA soccer but wanted to attend the Carlson School of Business, for example. NCAA programs probably have four or five players who give them the edge, but otherwise it would be great competition. It's the depth that makes the difference."

In fact, scores of major colleges don’t have men's NCAA Division I soccer teams. There are more than 330 D1 women’s soccer programs and only 200 on the men’s side.

While the number of club programs have increased over the years, Merrick and Heil’s teams are among the oldest programs. And their history shows: Heil’s alumni games draw middle-aged women who still hold their club soccer experience near and dear.

“When we get the old-timers coming back, women who played in the early 2000s, they’ll go, ‘Uh oh, I don’t know if I can play, but I won’t miss out on a chance to hang out in Isla Vista with everyone.’”

The rise of club soccer has even led to the creation of multiple teams at one school. Some schools’ soccer ecosystems are healthy enough to sustain two whole rosters. At Bracken’s Tufts University, where I also play, the club teams usually expect 150 students to try out every year. That’s for a school with an undergraduate population of 6,500. Many other schools across the country field two teams as well.

Its local, regionalized approach – teams aren’t bound to conference play geared for college football and basketball programs -- allows for flexibility that could smooth the return-to-play path from the pandemic restrictions.

“Every September that rolls around, I’m so excited for the fall season,” Heil says. “What college club soccer gives is not only an opportunity to compete at a high level but to make lifelong friends. And you don’t see that every day.”

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NCSA Scholarship Program for HS Seniors

Purpose

Award one (1) $1,000 Scholarship to one (1) Female and one (1) Male player who exemplifies the values and purpose of NCSA

 

Eligibility

1.  Graduating High School Senior

2.  Played for a NCSA team during the last 4 years

3.  Intends to continue academic career at a 2 or 4-year college or other post High School education

 

Application Process

Submit all requirements (1-3) below via email to ncsanj@gmail.com  with your name and Scholarship Application in the subject line by June 15, 2020

 

Requirements

   1. Soccer Resume to include basic information

          a. Applicant name, home address, telephone number, email address, High School attending

          b. Soccer career - recreation, club(s), NCSA club(s), school(s)

          c. Extracurricular activities, in and out of School

          d. Additional information that separates Applicant from other Applicants

   2. Letter of Recommendation from a coach for which the applicant played

   3. Essay--250 to 500 words “How has my NCSA soccer experience impacted my life and shaped me as a person, on and off the field?”

   4. No family relationship with any member of the NCSA Scholarship Committee

   5. No family relationship with any current NCSA Board Member

 

NCSA Scholarship Committee (3 members)

1.  Membership: President NCSA, 2 Club Presidents (volunteers)

2.  Self-imposed Point System determined by Committee

3.  Notify recipients by June 30, 2020

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