Grant Wahl linked to a great article at Sports Illustrated by Gwendolyn Oxenham that looks into some of the history of pickup soccer in America and how many top level players found their way to pickup games to help improve their skills. It also highlights the differences in how men and women encounter pickup matches. Alex Morgan had some great insights into what playing pickup did for her abilities:
“I couldn’t keep up physically, but technically, I got better with my feet and I started thinking faster,” she said. “I didn’t use to feel comfortable with the ball at my feet. I didn’t even want the ball, unless I was in a shooting position or on the run. Playing pick up with the Cal men’s team, random guys, and with teams BeastMode Soccer put together, I was forced to want the ball. I felt out of my comfort zone, a lot, but that’s when I knew I was improving.”
She added, “It was so fun thinking that coaches weren’t watching me and I could actually try things that I wouldn’t normally in a practice.” Somewhat paradoxically, the pickup field, the place that allows you to feel the most comfortable, is also the place where you leave comfort zones behind.
Pickup soccer faces a lot of hurdles in our society of helicopter parents. But it’s clearly not as rare as many believe.
One of my favorite sights when I’m out practicing with any of my teams is seeing a group of siblings there playing pickup on any spot of grass they can find between the practices.