Monday, November 02, 2009
Outdoor soccer is winding down in most of the country. Even if the fields weren't turning into Elysian mud bowls and even if snow didn't obscure the lines, the dwindling daylight with the advent of standard time dictates that outdoor soccer isn't practical. Some facilities boast lights which makes them very special indeed, but in my soccer travels I've found that most of the lighted fields are in areas where the weather permits outdoor soccer year round and many overlook artificial turf.
So what's a player to do until spring and the return of daylight savings time? The answer that immediately springs to mind – play indoor soccer. But that's not always possible. While some communities have indoor soccer parks, many indoor soccer practices and games occur in school gyms on less than ideal surfaces. Obviously soccer clubs who want to both retain players and maintain training over the winter months end up reserving as much school and church gym time as they can. In Milwaukee it's often a race to see who can get their applications into the recreation departments early enough. That used to be my job – making sure our club procured sufficient indoor practice time. I would stand outside the district office early on the first morning applications were accepted. I even brought coffee for the staff as they arrived. I'm no idiot – a happy government employee is a helpful government employee. Every year we got our full complement of gym time minus the music concerts, election days, book fairs, and carnivals. I wasn't just up against other soccer clubs; I was up against basketball, gymnastics, volleyball, and after-school club. I was once greeted in the grocery with the phrase: You're the lady who steals all the gym time. There's a reason my phone number is unlisted!
Despite taking risks that might drive my neighbors to march on my home much like the villagers did against Frankenstein's monster, I was not beloved in my soccer club either. No, I was chastised by parents and coaches for reserving such inadequate facilities at inconvenient times. The gyms rented for $7 an hour while the indoor soccer park rented for $180 an hour/field. No coach was willing to accept a smaller wage and no parent was willing to pay a larger club fee, yet they felt that they should still be practicing indoors on a "real" field; that is to say a field one-third the size of a standard soccer field with walls abutting all four sides, artificial turf laid on a concrete slab, and an odor that on a good day could be described as burying your face in your child's soccer socks after a game in the rain. Because the indoor park sponsored dozens of leagues, reservation times were usually Saturday and Sunday mornings before 8 a.m. and after 11 p.m. Not exactly what the displeased wanted to hear.
There is another option for families, especially for families with young players – do another sport over winter. This probably sounds treasonous coming from a blogger on a youth soccer site, but truthfully even soccer coaches agree that taking a break from soccer in the early years can be both healthy and beneficial. Certainly once a player graduates to a select team he or she may need to practice year round to continue the development of individual and team skills. But for players under age 12 taking a break from the sport gives them the opportunity to try out other sports, decide if soccer is the sport they want to singularly pursue, and open up to a new group of friends. Additionally there's the argument that repetitive muscle training isn't healthy and leads to injury. I tend to sidestep the medical issues and look more significantly at the social side of the argument. Life is too short to be so focused so young. There are winter sports that keep kids outdoors and give them a world of great experiences. Few of our kids will end up being the next Michael Essien or Abby Wambach, but they will all grow up to be adults who need to be happy, healthy, and fulfilled.
Our sons chose to stick to soccer. They love the sport. When they aren't playing, they are often talking about the sport, reading about it, or watching it. Yet even in the midst of all that passion, they also enjoyed basketball, baseball, snowboarding, running, golf, volleyball, and gymnastics. They aren't proficient in any of these, but enjoyed doing them and continue to play many of them for fun. They have friends who golf who have no interest in soccer and friends who snowboard who couldn't tell you what PK stands for. Taking a two or three month break from soccer but not from healthy activity can't be bad for our children especially when the soccer they are missing is some reconfiguration of the sport to fit the constraints of an odd facility and its availability.
Hopefully your soccer club or sports organization allows you to take winter off by providing a fee structure split among the seasons. They should definitely do this until select soccer. If they don't, it never hurts to ask if you can be relieved of the winter assessment if your son or daughter wants to try something else over the winter. Or you can follow one grandkid's route. He did gymnastics in the fall and now wants to do soccer indoors for the winter. Go figure!