Soccer is the "in" sport among youth in the United States. In the D.C. metropolitan area, there are approximately 75,000 youngsters registered to play soccer. One of the main reasons soccer is the fastest growing team sport in the country is the community programs.
But the game is not without its problems.
At the junior level, youngsters are often exposed to competition fat too intense for their tender years. Up to the ages of 10 or 11, children should be playing for fun. Drills should be kept to a minimum and practices should not be too long.
We need to ease the pressure on the children and get better coaches., Some coaches tend to practice too often and too long. For 8-year olds, no practice should run more than 45 minutes because there is s short attention span at that age.
In the earlier years, the coach has to teach the child how to perform a skill, but then the child has to go away and practice on his own. That's where you separate the wheat from the chaff.
For older children, no practice should run longer than 1 1/2 hours.
The successful coach of the younger children should not be a strict disciplinarian, and he has to try to get out of the fierce competition that we find in certain leagues. A boy or girl at that age doesn't want the fierce competition that the organizers of the league expose them to.
There is time for that later, at the ages of 12 and 13. But younger children are competing against themselves. They are finding out what they are all about, how to kick the ball and how to propel it.
The parents have got to learn something about the game, and learn how to talk with their children about fundamentals of the game. Like parents in most sports, they rely on the coach to do everything, even getting their children to and from practice. They've got to realize the coach is donating his time and they should try to assist him in every way.
Coaches should be aware that in youth soccer, you don't have to use a full length field for the younger children. It is too long for them. And, if possible, you should have smaller goals for the smaller children.
Even with the problems, soccer at the community level is further along than it is at the high school and college level in this area. On the high school level, soccer often is accorded second class status. The people in charge of the school programs have not been brought up with soccer, therefore they know little about it. They'll say, "You've got your goals and you've got your field, now to get your program started."
We can't just accept for all time that this is going to be a minor sport, because it's not. I'm not knocking any other sport; I'm saying that people who are in responsible positions to educate children must be now, in 1981, realize that soccer has to be given better facilities because the numbers are there and the kids want to play and you've got to accomodate them.
If I'm an athletic director in a school, you're not going to suppress soccer. But there aren't many athletic directors like me around now. That's why the kids are coming out better in the community programs.
Most of the community coaches are better coaches. A lot of them are from other countries originally. You might get an Italian over here and an Argentinian over there. They come into the country and they know something about the game. A lot of them know enough to teach the basics to children, so the children learn quicker in the community programs.
We must have good coaches, but it's difficult to be a good coach if you haven't been brought up in the game. Still, any coach can get help from the professionals in town. There are planty of soccer books and films. There are all ways of learning.
This is the greatest sports-minded country in the world, but we need decent facilities to play on. RFK Stadium is a good field but I'd have difficulty saying where the next good field in this area is. Some of the community fields are being played on seven and eight hours a day. You can't keep a field in good condition with that kind of use, but it shows the number are there to warrant the facilities.
I have a 17-year-old son. A while ago we went looking around at colleges and we drove down to Virginia Tech. They showed us the football stadium; it seats 50,000 for five games a year. I asked where the soccer field was and the coach pointed to a field so far away you needed binoculars to see it.
We must improve our standards so that we can bring along American players to be in the major league. I'm not saying that we should eliminate some of the very good players from the other countries, but the fact of the matter is that if I spend $100,000 to bring in some player from Yugoslavia or some other country, I don't think that player will bring in more than two dozen spectators.
But if we can get a local player on the team, he won't cost $100,000 and we'll get far more than two dozen coming to watch him.
Soccer is played in 147 countries and it is the major sport in 100 countries, but the United States is not yet a major soccer country. We have a long, long way to go.