Fortunately, I don’t have to reach back too far to recount a personal, but formative sports experience which has shaped the introduction of one of our recent initiatives. Shortly after settling in Westchester with a young family in the mid ‘90’s, I participated in a weekend early morning sandlot soccer game with neighboring dads (and one mom!). The numbers were originally sparse. We played 4 v 4 and used orange utility cones or garbage cans as goals. Word of the game spread quickly and within a few weeks we were playing with full sides, waiting players and real goals.
With a bow to nostalgia, we loved the games for the same reason we loved our neighborhood games from a generation ago:
Democratic Participation: All players regardless of ability or experience were welcome.
- Process over Result: The score was important right up until quitting time. We all had a family and a job waiting for us. The quality of the game or any individual would not be marginalized by overreaching competition.
- Love of Game: We all had an intrinsic and personal reason for playing. No hidden agendas. Nothing to prove.
- No financial burden: With the exception of buying a new ball at the beginning of the season and an end of year Bar B Que, there were no monetary impositions placed on any of the participants.
- No Idiots: The decent majority set the culture over the occasional irritant.
Emerging from a year of isolation and limited activity, the sandlot or “pick up” model of play is perfect for players with limited financial and community resources. Players do not have to be separated by ability, size or age. Multiple grids can be supervised with limited coaches as the game itself and not imposed direction of coaches dictated the play. Sandlot space over full fields opens the possibility of available space.
Additionally, with players and not leagues assuming leadership roles, you can throw out the costs of administration, uniforms, and referee costs. And finally, parents can enjoy watching their kids play with reckless abandon from the perch of their local neighborhood, without transporting them to another county or state.
This season, in partnership with the White Plains Recreation Department we have launched our own Pick Up Soccer Program. Played on a non-descript field space in a lesser known park in the White Plains community, the weekly game brings in over thirty players from 5 different communities across multiple zip codes. Players range in age from 8-14 years of age with one coach and high school teen leaders facilitating the play. Two to three grids accommodate the varying age groups. The high school players participate as both role players and supporters to positively support the play. Missing are the sounds of referee whistles, coaches, and parents. The voices of the players rule the play space.
The cost of operating the program is minimal. The recreation department is happy to share the community space in support of their families who are offered the program at no charge. Each week the numbers grow as players return with friends and teammates from their own club programs. Whether or not this marks a reset from the emergence of COVID only time will tell.
I look forward to keeping you posted.
Head Coach, Backyard Sports Cares