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AYSO Soccer in Maine -- late fall. Plus, a short clip for family.

By Andrew Pollack on 11/07/2005 at 08:31 AM EST

If you have kids over the age of 8 and live in the U.S., you probably know about AYSO. The American Youth Soccer Organization is one of the greatest things ever to happen for kids. The organization exists in regional chapters purely for the purpose of introducing kids to the game in a low-pressure, everyone plays, learn as you go environment. I've coached AYSO a few times and can tell you that this attitude is not just expressed in words. At an AYSO game (particularly with the younger kids) a ref almost never blows a whistle without then explaining to the kid why and how to avoid it in the future. The first few years this means repeated "do-overs" for side-line throws and other action starting points where the rules can take time to learn. As a coach, you have to give the ref a card at each game showing which kids played which positions and for how long -- because everyone plays in AYSO. All kids play at least half of every game, and no kids play a full game unless everyone has played at least three quarters (younger kids divide the half into quarters for a quick break). These rules are checked and followed up on. There are no bench-warmers in AYSO. Teams in AYSO are also balanced. Kids who have never played are evaluated and a painstaking effort is made to create these balanced teams each year. When the unusual happens and a team ends up on the field that's simply much stronger than another, coaches will quietly shift players around to avoid blowouts. Even the kids understand this spirit of play. When someone is injured on the field (which I've never seen require much more than a band-aid) play is stopped and all the kids know to kneel down where they are while the situation is resolved. The player is applauded by all the players and parents of both teams as they're helped off the field.

Some kids do want more competitive sports, however, even at a young age. Its great that kids like Ari can get involved in these kinds of "travel" teams or even more up into the "premier" leagues if they want. These are their first exposure to more serious conditioning and practices -- but even there most of the time pressure is kept to a minimum even as the play gets more serious and much more rough. If I had to pick one program though, AYSO would win hands down.

Playing in the late fall in Maine, however, can be a challenge. Right now we're headed into the winter season and AYSO is over. The kids who really are serious about the game have moved indoors for practices and games. The end of the AYSO season is cold. Sometimes, you have to look for odd solutions when games just can't be held outdoors. Among the 10 year olds, Coryn played keeper in a game called "gym-ball" because we simply ran out of weekends to reschedule rain-cancelled games this year. Gym-Ball cannot be played at Ari's age because the danger level of playing in those tight confines would be too high. The 12 year olds played one make-up game for the AYSO team, and one really cold make-up game with the Cumberland Soccer Club team. On that day, it was 22 degrees (F) when we got out of the car to "warm up".

For my birthday, Barb got me a digital video camera. Understand that at my best, I'm a poor videographer. In this case, where I'd much rather be watching the game then the camera, I'm downright horrific. As such, in the course of taping nearly an hour of video, I've paired it down to less than 2 minutes of watchable highlights of the two kids.

Ok, if you're not a family member or at least somone who knows Ari and Coryn this will likely have no interest whatever for you.
Here's the clip.

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