Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Kids' Soccer

So for some reason I find myself coaching both Aidan and Brennan again this year. I had insisted that I would only be a co-coach or assistant coach for Brennan, since when we get out on the field he and I tend to butt heads. But, it wasn't to be; turned out that the club was having real difficulties getting even unqualified volunteers, and so in the end I stepped back to the plate.

They do things different here. The city has a number of clubs, and these clubs enter teams into a city-wife league. Our club is Aurora (it's based on where you live), which is the largest club in the city. In the four age groups - U18, U16, U14, and U12 - we have fielded 48 teams. These age groups are further divided, of course, into Boys and Girls, and then into Premier, Division II, Division III, and Division IV.

Neither boy stood a chance of making the Premier teams, in U14 for Aidan (Aurora Apollo) and U12 for Brennan (Aurora Jets), largely because the teams had to have their rosters set before open tryouts happened. Because we had just moved from out of town, both boys had to start with Div III tryouts, and Aidan went through a couple more rounds before he was ultimately relegated to Div III. Brennan came close to making the cut for an additional Div II tryout, but in the end also had to settle for III. Since it's a U12 league and he doesn't turn 10 until February, he understands this isn't a bad thing.

One of the things that's different here is that, as a coach, I actually had to draft players for my team, which meant we had to go and watch the boys play for a viewing. Each coach of course got to hang on to his own boy, and a few times if you drafted one player you had to get another (I, for instance, have twins on the Jets). But both times I got first draft, where we picked for 4 teams in the U14 and 3 in the U12. It was fun, but difficult, and I took a different plan to each draft.

With the Apollo, for instance, I know for a fact that in Aidan I have the best keeper in Aurora for this group (and maybe for Div II as well, since a combination of him being tight and unpracticed and coaches who didn't know him conspired to push him down), and so my first pick was a fast kid with good feet and a remarkably hard shot. And imagine my joy to find when my 2nd pick came, 8th overall, that the kid I rated the best defender on the pitch was still available. We're two games into the preseason now, and after having given up the first goal each game, we won 4-2 and 5-1. My top pick has only scored one goal in those two games, but he's causing the other teams all sorts of fits, and when they focus so much on him it leaves plenty of room for lots of other talented players. Bonus: I put this kid in goal for the second half of the second game, and he played well and even ran the ball out to past half to try and set up a play. And, Aidan scored a goal in his brief time out on forward (where he shows great footwork, incidentally, although he's not the fastest kid when he has the ball).

Brennan can play keeper as well, but his talents loom largest when he's out on the pitch. Defender, midfielder, forward, he's a threat no matter where he goes. For the Jets, my first pick was a keeper. I wasn't as sure about this team from the beginning, partly because I thought the talent pool I saw at the tryouts wasn't as deep (and yes, I'm accounting for age difference), and the first exhibition game was a tough 2-1 loss. But now we're into the regular season already, and the first game, in which we had precisely zero (0) subs, we won 4-1, and then tonight the boys absolutely manhandled their opponents, 13-0. Brennan scored 3 goals, and the boys I drafted to be keeper scored 4, to go with one he scored the other day. And yes, I did everything in my power to mix things up, putting defenders up front (where one promptly scored a hat trick), forwards in back, changed keepers, insisted that the boys pass more and more, but everything conspired against their opponents tonight. But the boys were gentlemen about things, and they seemed to understand my concern about making the other kids feel worse than they must have already.

I can't say that either team is going to go undefeated this year, but my goodness, it's nuts how lucky I've gotten, not just with the sheer talent of these kids, but also their willingness to listen and to buy into a system.

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