Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Will adult soccer help drive the game at the Grassroots level?

father son soccerTonight I was an Assistant Referee for two women's game in St Catharines.  During the one game I asked a player on the bench how many teams were in their league.  She told me three tiered divisions of 9 teams each.  This is a Niagara based league.

I told her when I started playing men's soccer in 1984, Welland had one team in each the Niagara Soccer League Premier and First Division.  We now have 2 city-based men's leagues of 10 teams each, a Co-ed 9v9 program of 22 teams as well as teams in the NSL Premier, First and Second Division.  This growth has happened in every city in Niagara.  There wasn't a women's team in Welland for a long time.

So what does this have to do with Grassroots football?

You walk into any garage in Canada in you will find ice skates that fit everybody in the house, hockey sticks of all sizes and the occasional puck.  Many families have a hockey net as well, standard issue red posts with white mesh.

When I was a kid (born 1966) most of our parents did not play organized soccer, although may of our families came from soccer countries.  But, for argument's sake, we were the only players in the house.  All of my
friends who played hockey had dads who also played.

As each year passes, more and more new soccer players have parents who played at the youth level, some beyond that.

women soccerFast forward.

Today.  Twenty men's teams in Welland means roughly 360 players.  Assuming some duplication with co-ed and competitive men's and women's teams, let's say there are 800 active adult soccer players in Welland right now, male and female.  Many are parents or just moving into that phase of life.

Adult soccer is growing as a result of growth in youth soccer since 1980 as well as a social attitude of staying "Active for Life".

Think of the increased number of children:
  • who have soccer playing parents
  • who see adult size soccer boots, shin pads and kits around the house
  • have size 3,4 and 5 soccer balls laying around the home
  • go watch their parents play
  • hear about the game at dinner (and the exaggerated stories)
  • listen to parents alter plans around their own soccer games
  • have parents who didn't play soccer but took it up as an adult
  • have parents who did not play but are more likely now to  tune in on TV
  • have more aunts and uncles who play
  • see games breaking out at picnics and family functions now involving parents
  • see their parents enjoying their league on teams with crazy names like "Molson FC" and "No Way No How"
I am not talking about the soccer mom or dad who drives their kids and sells cookies and raffle tickets.  I am talking about moms and dads who play.

Maybe history will show that soccer needed to hit full "beer league" status among adults before it fully infiltrates the playgrounds.

Picking up a ball and playing away from organized soccer is slowly becoming a more mainstream thing to do.  My children have never known a garage void of soccer equipment.  They've set up my nets, emptied my ball bag, taken balls to school, etc.  And the other kids who do it also had active soccer parents.  Well, now we have more soccer playing parents.  What might become of that?

With more adults playing soccer, we also have more teachers playing.  My son's elementary school had 3 active players on staff.  The school soccer program stepped up a bit.  More teachers with posters in their classes, etc.  Does it matter? Well, when I was in school we had teachers who played slo-pitch and adult volleyball.  You wanna guess what we were set up to play at school?

With more adults playing we have more demand for facilities.  Kids lobbying for fields are cute.  Adults lobbying for fields VOTE.  :)

Let's be honest, everything soccer related will contribute to a growth in Grassroots football.  From the guy who sells the knock-off jerseys at tournaments to David Beckham sporting his new underwear.  As coaches, we need to massage the environment to bring players to the playground, but I really do think more soccer in the home will do the most for the game.

Who knows?  Maybe history will show that soccer needed to hit full "beer league" status among adults before it fully infiltrates the playgrounds.