For many youth players in the US, playing all year means playing indoors when the climate gets too cold and snowy, or in some places, too hot. The rest of the year the indoor places have to rely on adults who, for some, indoor soccer is the only form of the game they still play. Entire societies of adults can be found frequenting indoor places, playing on teams several nights each week. Another option is to play Futsal. This can take place on hard gym surfaces indoors or out and uses smaller, heavier balls, which can help expose players with weaker technique who need to work on things. Read our interview with Santos FC coach Luis Fernando Paes de Barros on Futsal here.
That all said, why not join a team or pick-up game at your local center? Another alternative is renting indoor space to conduct practices. Adults don’t get off work until later in the evenings, so often centers will rent their space between 4pm-6pm to people willing to pay.
If indoor centers are not available to you, other locations you could try to use include: –
- Rec Centers: Usually offer space better designed for conditioning or futsal. Both options are great for the off season. The prices seem to be more reasonable and there is normally no need for any insurance or other documentation to participate. You simply rent the area and play. Some centers ban indoor soccer games.
- Churches: Like McDonalds building play areas, more and more churches are offering gym space to their congregation and will often rent this space out. Again, this area is normally better fitted for conditioning or futsal as the gym is usually more basketball-oriented.
- Schools: This is the trickiest of the four. Schools can be a great resource for some extra off-season touches. Be aware that some districts do not allow soccer indoors. There is normally an application fee and some insurance concerns. On the flip side, prices are among the cheapest around and the locations are plentiful.
- Outdoor: Several cities have public artificial turf fields that you can use or rent. Almost all schools also have turf fields sitting idle in the winter. If the weather is cold but dry, these options can be useful to coaches – particularly at weekends when there is enough daylight for practices.
For any of the options above, or simply in backyards and streets, players can also be encouraged to play street soccer. When we were all younger and computer games were limited to Pong and Duck Hunt, it was usual to spend the time after school playing soccer with friends. These days we rarely see kids playing outside in their neighborhoods, which will undoubtedly lower the technical level of our youth soccer players. It is widely recognized that mastering a skill like soccer takes 10,000 hours of practice. If the only practice a player gets is through their competitive teams (6-8 hours a week for 32 weeks each year) it would take 52 years to be ready for the professional game.
Top level managers like Sir Alex Ferguson and Jose Mourinho, are making strong cases on the importance of street soccer at younger ages. This is not something that a coach or parent controls. They may set it up but the kids should be encouraged to make their own rules and select their own teams. Goals can be informal and the set up is minimal. Let the children play together and solve their own problems! This set up will greatly aid any child as they continue to grow and mature both as a player and as a person.