Go Play – The gift that is unstructured soccer
The way that I initially learned and fell in love with football was not from a great coach or following a fancy training program. I fell in love with football the same way that kids in every country outside the USA fell in love with the game, through pickup soccer.
Visit any of the countries that regularly produce the best soccer players in the world and you will notice that there are pickup games everywhere. Literally, everywhere. The youngest kids are playing on the streets and playgrounds. The young men and adults are playing on “fields” in every neighborhood. Fields is in quotation because what is consider a field in most places would not be considered a field in the USA.
Pickups games are where the youngest players develop their love, creativity and passion for the game. Young players start learning the rules and tactics of the game without realizing that they are learning. It’s through pickups that truly talented players prove their worth and are first noticed by the community.
If you are a parent or coach with kids that are interested in the game, one of the best gifts you can give them is to offer them the opportunity to regularly participate in pickups.
Find pickup games going on in your area and take your kids.
If you can’t find pickups near you, you can ask your coach to organize a pickup. Coaches that are truly about player development, understands the importance of pickup and they will gladly invite players, find space and set up the small fields. It’s important that this coach does not try to coach during pickup. The coach should just organize and enjoy the game play.
Another option is for you to organize the pickup. Keep it simple and informal, invite a few of child teammates to play pickup in a park area near you. Once at the park, help setup the field and let kids know that it’s their time to play. Let them know that they will pick teams and regulate each other.
Get out of there way and let them play. While they are playing, it’s important to not interfere in their game in any way. Unless, someone gets seriously injured or an egregious act is being committed by one of the kids, you should stay away. Let them play and figure out how to play, how to solve disagreements, what moves works and which moves need more practice.
Youth pickup is a cornerstone in youth soccer development. We can all do our part to ensure that more kids begin their development by playing pickups and letting their imagination for the game run wild.