From January through the beginning of March 2020, the soccer world, and depending on one’s perspective, the entire world, seemed to be moving as it always had been. I remember the Thursday in March in which we moved all of our boys’ training sessions outdoors, as fear began about training indoors. I do not believe at that time that anyone was prepared for what would come next and the impact it would have on the young players that worked so very hard all Winter, to prepare for a competitive Spring.
Now, we are in the middle of May, and I reached out to several of our players ranging from 2009 to 2002 birth years to ask their perspective of life as we now know it. For these athletes are mere victims of circumstance and have the difficulty of finding ways to keep busy and adapt to this time period. Parents have become their teacher and coach, along with all else that they do. Finding ways to stay motivated and sane, for that matter, is increasingly difficult as the weeks continue to amount to months.
Soccer is at its roots a social sport. Team bonding and understanding is critical to any successful team. It was to no surprise that every player I reached out to when asked about what they missed most responded with something about missing their teammates. Club soccer is unique in that oftentimes, your team consists of players that go to many different schools and the only time players get to see each other is on the field. In soccer, a shared goal unites the group. While players want to individually get better, this desire increases when the hard work transfers to the team as a whole. AJ, a 2007 player, described it as “ very hard being away from my teammates and doing all of the training online.” AJ mentioned that his team still stays connected using technology and holds each other accountable through those means. The friendship between teammates can be some of the strongest and the separation, inscrutable.
While in-person training has not been able to occur, Zoom sessions have quickly become the go to. Naomi, a 2005 player, enjoys the direction the Zoom session offers. She has been using the SFA sessions that Westerville United offers and also has been using QTSD sessions for extra training. Naomi was a trapped 8th grader and will be attending high school in the Fall. Not having any Spring season has put Naomi and players in a similar situation in a difficult spot headed into high school tryouts. Naomi said that “having high school soccer in the Fall has kept me motivated by trying to have an edge over the other players.” Players that will be freshmen in the Fall, oftentimes do not know the coach before tryouts. Training on your own is the only way currently and that can become stale, really quickly. Camdan, a 2006 player, is in a similar situation as Naomi. Camdan described the situation as difficult, but that preparing for highschool has kept him motivated through it all. Knowing that there is something to train for, certainly helps maintain motivation.
While Zoom training offers an option to continue player development, what about the players that planned on using this Spring season for college recruitment? Margaret, a 2002 player, was in the middle of her recruiting process to play collegiate soccer. College ID camps have been cancelled, Spring showcases were never able to occur and as aforementioned, training on your own becomes stale quickly. Margaret described her thoughts as “what if there is not another season?” She also mentioned “I was not prepared for the Fall of high school to potentially have been my last.” With so much uncertainty going on, there is a real chance that the Fall season will be affected. The pandemic has left some players having already played their last season ever, and with no preparation to it being their last. The landscape of college recruiting has been completely changed and when one thinks of the situations, such as Margarets, it becomes real. A player has played their last game and a parent has watched their child play for the last time. As a coach, there will always be another game, but maybe not for some players.
What about the youngest of our soccer players? It is easy to find yourself wondering what goes on in these little ones’ minds. During an average practice you will hear and see some things that just make you wonder. . . and yet now it becomes a question of how to explain what is going on to them. Sophia, a 2009 player said “ it is hard because it is difficult to learn on your own.” Soccer can be very detail oriented with the younger players and when your coach is not there to correct errors or answer questions, how do they know if they are learning it correctly? Sophia misses laughing with her teammates and the social aspect of sports. It would be easy to imagine the fun of sports, especially for the younger players, is laughing and talking with your friends. Not to mention, many of the younger players do not have resources to be able to communicate with one another.
The youth soccer players are some of the strongest people I know. While we are all in the same pandemic, the perspective is different depending on your age. The purpose of this article was to highlight those perspectives. While it may affect each of our players differently, our passion for soccer will guide us forward. We plan for tomorrow and we adapt where we must. When one thinks of the describing characteristics of a soccer player one thinks: mentally tough, quick to adapt and hard working. These very characteristics are what will get us through tough times. When we get back on the field, I am confident we will be better together.