For the second year in a row, the MYSA took some teams to a local 3v3 Tournament that is a field renovation fund raiser for a challenge association in Chapel Hill (they used to be Chapel Hill United but are now part of Triangle United after merging with the Durham Strikers) Currently all of our players are Recreation level players (though a couple do play on challenge teams nearby) So we figured this was a great opportunity to expose some of our more talented kids to a higher level of play and also a chance to see how our kids are progressing. We got hammered last year, but hoped this year we’d be a little more competitive, especially in the upper age groups where we have a number of U12 kids aging out of our Recreational program and looking to start playing at the challenge level. Boy what a wake up call.
We took seven teams this year. Two coaches (myself included) brought teams back in U6 and U8 that had played last year. We brought back a fair number of the same players so we had some kids who had played 3v3 before. We also had more time to practice than last year and we worked the teams a month before the tournament. Two other coaches brought a girls team and boys team in both U11 and U12.
The U6 boys got thrown in over their heads mostly because there were not many (if any) other U6 Boys teams. So they had two games in the U7 Boys division and two in the U678 Coed division. They were way too young to play the U7 Boys, but put up a Good fight against the other U6 teams they faced. For them it was a long day but they seemed to enjoy it.
The U11 and U12 teams were stacked with some of our league’s best players, many of whom will likely play for new challenge teams being formed this year and were coached by two of our more experienced coaches who will coach some of those new challenge teams. While they had some very competitive games (within a point or two), they also had some VERY lopsided defeats. The coaches were in awe to say the least, and left knowing they had much to do.
As for the U8 teams, another coach and I took two boys teams. We had selected some of the top players in our U8 division from teams who placed #1 through #3 in the Spring 05 tournament. Our U8 division was one of the most competitive this year and the skill levels had risen sharply – we thought. We worked the team hard to get them familiar with the 3v3 format and to try and get them to understand that some things were very important like playing one on one defense so as not to leave someone open and ensuring they passed as much as possible to save energy. We figured that this year, while we’d still struggle against the more experienced challenge players we’d likely face, we’d at least make a better showing, keep things interesting, and get our players some more experience since we expect a number of them will veer towards challenge in the future.
Boy were we wrong. We got hammered in most games. Our kids just got shell shocked after a bit. The other coach and I worked between each game trying to tweak our game plan to better handle the attack. But a few key issues really hurt us:
- Our kids were way too timid. This is a common problem with our players – they are too nice on the field. I know that sounds wrong – but they just don’t want to race for that ball. Once it gets near an opposing player they just back off and wait for them to do something no matter how much we drill into them that they need to attack the ball non stop.
- Our kids didn’t trust each other to handle the ball. In a 3v3 format, its crucial that you stay spread out and we worked on this as much as we could. But every time we’d get the ball and the opponents went in after the ball, the other players on our team rushed in to help instead of trusting the ball handler to either get out of trouble or pass. So we’d get the ball, a second player would come in to catch the ball if the original player lost control and it left an opposing player wide open. Steal, pass, wide open shot on goal. Over and over. I sat down with two of the most skilled players on one team and implored to them that they had to trust each other’s ball handling and to stay away from each other. But it never sank in.
- Not enough passes. This is not uncommon at this age. But they clearly didn’t pass as much as the other teams and in addition to the offensive advantage this gave the other team, it meant they ran less and we ran more chasing down their passes. The kids were worn out by half time and we tried to explain that the more they passed, the less they had to run and the more energy they would have but that’s not something they are going to pick up in a day.
- They did not want to shoot from far away and often dribbled right into the defender – another common issue we’ve worked on during our regular seasons. Towards the end of the tournament they did improve on that.
- Playing under pressure. It was very clear they were not used to the fast pace and an opponent ready to go on every out of bounds situation. Our kids know the rules and how the game is played but found themselves confused or just bewildered by the pace – I swear my son started a kick off from well off the center of midfield and just started dribbling. He knows he can’t do that – but they just weren’t able to catch their breath.
I guess my point of all this is to try and understand a few things and decide if bringing our kids to this tournament was good or bad.
- It was VERY clear that the other coach and I have a lot to learn. Just in terms of how our kids were prepared and what we chose to concentrate on in practice. I know I can improve vastly and with any luck will start on my Level E certification this summer. During our Spring season I was very happy with how much our team and the U8 division as a whole had progressed – many kids have only been playing soccer 2 years or so. The competitiveness this past season was night and day better than it was a year ago. So the kids ARE learning. But I think coaches who go through something like this tournament quickly realize how much more there is to get the kids to understand. I know I have and am already hard at work at my plans for next year (I’m moving up to U10) So for the coaches, while humbling, I think it was a good thing for us – it opened our eyes wider than before.
- The kids were in over their heads in many matches. There was no question about it and they knew it. We had prepared them during practice that the games would be intense and against some teams they would likely get clobbered. But at that age it’s still hard to deal with. But as a whole – the kids did great. They knew they were getting clobbered and the more skilled players got upset after the first match because they were so used to controlling the play in the rec matches. But the parents were ready for it, helped them understand that they were facing kids who practiced 2-3 times a week, and that they were doing very well considering. And wouldn’t you know it – between every match, they had a blast playing keep away and other games with a spare goal we had near our league tent. We joked that if they expended as much energy on the field as they did in between games we’d have gotten somewhere. But they were enjoying themselves which was great. So while I was very concerned that they would feel miserable, and at times it was clear they did, they fought on through all four matches, had lots of fun during downtime, and one team even won or tied a match (the ref wasn’t sure if it was 5-5 or 6-5) which was good for them. This came at the end of the day which helped their confidence.
- Its a great opportunity to meet people. Probably the coolest thing about the whole day was meeting a coach who brought his rec team (not challenge) down from Virginia. He was a very dynamic coach who likes to take his kids on the road to experience soccer outside the confines of rec without being in the challenge arena. He offered to bring his team down sometime for some scrimmages against our teams which we thought would be really neat. It gives our kids a chance to face competition against kids they don’t know, but at a level closer to theirs. While we lost both games to this team, it wasn’t as drastic as it was against he 3v3 challenge teams. The games were exciting and the kids realized they had a shot and did very well. This coach is also taking his kids to the NC State Games later this month to play in their Recreational division (I didn’t realize they had anything beyond Challenge) What a great idea. I’m sure we’ll be taking a team next year.
So after all of the above – was it worth it? Even though our kids were clearly outclassed by many opponents – was it worth the experience? I really think it was. It was hard – no question. But I think the kids did learn that while they may be top dogs on their team, there is farther to go (I can’t tell you how freaked I get when my son acts like he already knows all there is to know about soccer – well and other things too) I think this showed them they still had work to do if they wanted to keep improving at soccer. They have to realize that for themselves. I think it helped the parents understand too what they might face if they decide to have their child try out for challenge. And meeting this team from Virginia was a treat. I think they personified what an ideal Recreation program is all about. Nobody says rec ball has to be limited to matches on your local fields. If the kids and parents want to – you can expose the kids to other teams, coaching styles, and levels of play during the summer and make short trips out of it (they tend to stay within 2 hours of home when the travel) Play Saturday and see the local sights on Sunday. Sure, you say, thats just challenge. But it’s not the same. Its more like Rec . The kids have a regular rec season but get to experience some exciting events as well (I know my kids would LOVE to play a match at the SAS Soccer Complex in Cary). And if some of those players decide to move on to challenge – I think they’ll be more prepared.
Who knows – maybe I’m completely wrong about this. I am not one of those creepy sports parents pushing their kids harder and harder. But my son really enjoys playing soccer and exposing him to various venues and places doing something he enjoys – even if he loses – that can’t be all bad. Because even after the 3v3 tournament, my son is almost as excited as he gets around Christmas because he’s heading to Duke’s Soccer Camp next week.