As the children begin to grow into their own, there is always an event that tells the parent that each child is different. This event is different from what foods they like or their favorite color. In our family, the event was the county soccer program.
In our county in Virginia, a soccer program was offered to every child. It was well-organized and funded and the kids had a chance to experience and learn the game for the first time. The youngest kids could enter the program at age 3. They would play in the ‘micro’ league for three years and then at age 6 would move onto the next level if they liked the game.
Sarah was already 6, had missed the micro league, and didn’t have much interest in this program as a result. All the other members of the team where Sarah played had the experience of 3 years on the micro program. This would become a pattern for our children where programs would be introduced at times when they were available for one child but not available for the other because of when they were introduced. But Patrick entered the micro league at age 3 in 1992.
Each child was outfitted with a uniform, pads, and cleats and off they went. It was a great experience for them. They got some exercise and they got to experience a team sport for the first time. I had played some soccer, but my first experience was in high school. There were few community wide organized sports programs when I grew up in the 50s. If your town had Peewee Baseball or Pop Warner Football, you were considered fortunate.
To be honest, I didn’t know what to expect. Three years old seemed to be very young to be starting something like this, but they assured us that it was the perfect age. Each team was coached by one of the parents and the parents would bring snacks and drinks for the team each week. And slowly they began to learn the various aspects of the game. That is, within the limitations of a 3-year-old on a scaled down field.
Each team consisted of the new 3-year-olds, a group of 4-year-olds with 1 years of experience, and a group of 5-year-olds with 2 years experience. Naturally, the older kids took the lead in most aspects of the game, but it seemed that everyone enjoyed the experience, even if it wasn’t the soccer that I was expecting.
Picture, if you will, an invader disturbs a beehive. The bees, en masse, chase after the invader. The invader goes left, the bees go left. The invader goes right, the bees go right. Rarely do the bees ever catch the invader, but the chase continues. This was micro soccer. Wherever the ball went, all members of both teams would chase the ball. We [privately] called it ‘mob soccer’ because the idea of playing a position on the field was unknown to them at this point.
The chase would continue until a goal was scored and usually one of the third year kids would do the scoring. There was really no need for a goalie at this level since the objective was to teach kicking, passing, and dribbling.
Patrick had a unique skill within this group because he was left-footed and he was a fast runner. While he didn’t score many goals his first year, he began to score in his second year, and by his third year he dominated the game. This was a familiar pattern in this league where the athletic difference between a 3-year-old and a 5-year-old was so pronounced.
The importance of this experience for Patrick was his involvement in an organized team activity where he could learn and eventually excel with other kids his age. The availability of these types of programs was just another reason we knew we had made a good decision to move to this area. When we pass the county park, today we see much more than the two soccer fields from those days. When we first arrived here, this park was largely fallow land used for Civil War re-enactments and little else. Now there are many lighted fields for all levels. There are beginner teams to advanced ‘travel’ teams playing there almost all year long. It has become a great program for the athletic development of the children in our area.