By Chris Brown
In a couple of communities in Western Pennsylvania a soccer revolution is taking place. Today in Fox Chapel and Mercer County the archaic adult model of recreational soccer has been replaced by a modified street soccer format. This model has been introduced to give the game back to the kids, give our children a “taste” for street soccer and to make sure recreational soccer is a positive introduction to the beautiful game.
In many communities a club or local park/recreational authority typically organizes recreational soccer. These organizations either pick teams randomly or quite often they identify an age group administrator who is responsible for creating teams. However, there have been numerous cases where the administrator has abused their position and loaded teams (often their own!) with talent. In an effort to eliminate these problems and equalize teams, some organizations have utilized “drafts” to distribute players to teams. But, is it really fair to draft six and seven year old children? Why should we evaluate their performance in such a callous adult manner, when many of them have limited ability to evaluate their own performance?
In western Pennsylvania, some clubs have responded to the adult orientation of recreational soccer by creating a new structure that maximizes fun, creates an enjoyable learning environment and allows all players to develop a positive rapport with the game. The structure they have hit upon is a modified street soccer or “scramble” format where children train with their “team”, but play games with different players from all over their community. In terms of administration this allows unlimited sizes for team squads, decreases coaching personnel demands, makes for more efficient game scheduling and eases practice field allotment concerns.
In practical terms, in a community like Fox Chapel this “scramble” format works something like this . . . During the week the children practice with their team and their assigned “coach”. However, on game days the teams come to an administrative tent and, in pairs (in their 1st year), the children are randomly assigned colored bibs/vests. This color is their team for the day. So if a child is assigned to the green team, he/she will play one quarter each against four other colored teams. Once assigned to a team, a team chaperone helps the children move from field to field at the end of each quarter to play their new opponent. Each team is assigned enough players for a starting line-up (subs are only used if there are not enough children remaining to make a team). Children are given a “position” for the day (one point on a diamond). The following week they are given a different position. Coaches stay at the field that was the site of their first game. The following week children are mixed up with new children and play on a “new” team against four “new” opponents.
Joe Francioni, then Fox Chapel Area Club President, found the modified street soccer or “scramble” format to be a great success. “With the scramble format all children are starters,” Joe stated. Moreover, it eliminates the triple threat of talent loading, overemphasis on winning/tactics and overzealous “coaching” from the sidelines. Joe has noticed, “that the scramble format creates soccer friends, not soccer enemies and brings the community together.” Playing for fun is prompted since wins and losses become somewhat meaningless. Furthermore, in this environment “coaches” are more willing to use “age-appropriate” activities at practice that promote and maximize ball contacts and allow children to experiment with different techniques. Although this modified street soccer format maximizes playing time for all players it is hard work for the club’s volunteers. Joe Francioni feels that sound organization is key. “We have some fantastic volunteers who ensure that game day organization is very smooth and quick,” said Joe. This can only be done with adequate planning and with the help of committed volunteer administrators."
Chris Brown is head coach of the Kenyon College soccer team and holds both the USSF and UEFA ‘A’ licenses. He has coached in the USL for Columbus FC (which reached the playoffs in 1994) and is a highly-respected former Director of Coaching for Pennsylvania and Wisconsin. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org