Last month we participated in a couple of 3-on-3 soccer tournaments in the middle of Illinois. Back-to-back weekends saw the senior circuit (yours truly and some friends) and the youth team (daughter and friends) lace ’em up and hit the severely drought-depleted pitch.
For me it was a chance to play, in a semi-organized fashion, this sport I’ve become so enamored with. For the kids it was a new take on the kind of soccer they’ve been learning the last few years. We were playing the standard 3-on-3 rules: small goals, no keeper, playing pitch a bit bigger than full-court basketball.
Our team, sporting the green Skibereen shirts (local Celtic/Irish band, whose bass player is a friend and teammate), were certainly the best-dressed and oldest team. We found ourselves in the men’s open division, and since they didn’t have quite enough teams to split between a Rec League and Competitive Division, we found ourselves severely outclassed in one match. That one featured a couple of former college players and some high school kids with skills.
The other games we fared better, and would have probably won one had teammate John been a little luckier. He hit the post four(!) times. The matches went quickly and no one got hurt. It wasn’t too physical, though I could see how it could get that way in a different scenario. My own skills were fairly lacking; I was there to fill out numbers for teammates who had played competitively in the past. But I had fun and only developed a greater appreciation for the real athletes who play the sport.
The girls played the following weekend and experienced a little more success. We were a little frustrated to start, because it took some time for them to remember and/or re-absorb some of the techniques and lessons we’d been teaching them. Leading up to the tourney, we had about three weeks of practice/scrimmage – twice a week. Friend and Coach Perry (and fellow Team Skibereen member) did a fine job with preparation and patient coaching.
After they remembered to pass into space and not to over-commit on defense, they played very well. More importantly, they seemed to enjoy themselves. I found myself a little annoyed that the tourney organizers combined the U10 girls with the U11 girls. Since our team had some 8-year-olds, we ended up playing some girls two years older. Our team definitely had a hard time adjusting to the speed and physicality.
It was a learning experience, though, and a good one. The girls said they liked their games and wanted to play again, despite the heat. We will probably be participating in more of these 3-on-3 tourneys in coming summers.
And it’s encouraging that we will have some opportunities. Both tournaments had lots and lots of participants and teams. Probably 30 plus teams for back-to-back weekends. That’s around 200 players at two small towns right outside of Springfield. Yes, soccer is still a niche sport in this country, but little sings like these tell us the niche is growing.