It's the off-season for many in youth soccer in BC, and now that we're not in the throes of a long season, I have a moment or two to reflect - and give thanks.
It seems like just yesterday that I took my boy to his first game. We arrived at an unfamiliar park on Vancouver's west side, surrounded by swarms of red and yellow jerseys, and a hoard of people we didn't know. I could see that look of apprehension begin to creep across my son's face.
We were soon approached by a big, burly man standing about six-foot and at least 200 lbs. He introduced himself as "Coach Olivio", and immediately got down on both knees so that he was as close to eye-level with my boy, and shook his hand. The look of worry quickly vanished. As he got back up, Olivio engaged my son in an ice-breaking chat, and walked hand-in-hand with him as they sauntered over to meet his new teammates. We couldn't have asked for a better start.
Two years later, my son had the good fortune to play for Coach Ralph, who tirelessly invested his time through six months of driving rain, gravel fields, and crack-of-dawn matches, all for the benefit of his U9 charges. Ralph emphasized the value of teamwork and sportsmanship, and instilled in my boy a deeper love for the game. Our family will always appreciate Ralph's genuine and gracious nature.
Then, there was west-side soccer guru Slavenko, whose "yummy games" and training sessions at Montgomery Park are legendary. Anyone who's arrived to pick up their son or daughter at the appointed time will understand the humour behind Slavenko's standard: "Just five more minutes!" Slavenko's not every child's cup of tea, as he wears his heart, and his opinion, on his sleeve. One thing's certain - with Slavenko, you never have to wonder what he's thinking. For those who anticipate that their child might pursue a path in competitive soccer, Slavenko's your guy for additional training.
A switch of club and district, and it was on to Ken and Jeff - two guys that succeed in holding the room, no small feat when it's populated by 9-year-olds. They encouraged their boys to take risks, assume a degree of responsibility, and to enjoy playing in a ever-more competitive environment.
Things ramped up in U11 and U12, at stages 3 and 4 of the LTPD model, "Learning to Train", and "Training to Train" respectively. Three practices a week with coaches Rick, Fran, Didar, Huw, Andy and Doug. For the first time, at least within club soccer, the boys encountered specific performance objectives, and received feedback both positive and negative, as circumstances or performance dictated. The roughly 4:1 player-coach ratio was unmatched.
While Saturday was match day, Sunday morning/afternoon has been reserved for training at TSS Academy. For four years now, Colin and Rob have imparted the technical, but especially the tactical side of the game - helping their trainees to better understand the game, and to improve their decision-making.
If you have a child in youth soccer, I'm sure you have your own list of people you're thankful for. Whether it's a volunteer coach, a club coordinator, a paid coach, a referee, or anyone else giving their time to help our kids get the most out of their soccer experience, we owe them all a debt of thanks.