Base of the Football Pyramid – The Philly Soccer Page

Photo: Chris Gibbons

The grass on this course is as beautiful as any other I have played on in my 40s.

Three widths of carefully lined, neatly lined, carefully trimmed green shoots, and around each of them a ball is played. Well… pinged about two out of three, I must say. There are eight players on my field and a cloud of dust.

Welcome to the bottom of the American Football Pyramid: The U-9 Boys travel football in suburban Philadelphia.

In my day

Any story about how things are should start with how they were.

When I was a kid, at the age of 8, football included a reversible “Biddy Football League” screen-printed cap, mandatory mouthguards, and orange slices at halftime. The only trip we made was to the neighborhood, to the eternal matches like Boalsburg vs Park Forest.

Clothing today is’s custom home and away kits, shin guards for everyone, and the league’s “bring your own water” rule. Weekends in Malvern can take up to an hour for some parents – both ways (and that’s lowest of the three travel levels in this age group. Children who developed early? Weekend excursions from Fraternal suburbs to the nation’s capital, central New Jersey, and unknown parks in Maryland).

Like this was, the first practice of the season was on the Tuesday before the Saturday game, sometime after Labor Day. Like this is, it’s the first practice three full months before any league game. That seems like a lot, but when that incredibly far away time arrives, at least official results won’t be kept (and won’t be kept until U-13).

To say that I was not at all ready for this when I went to the pre-season meeting of the coaches is to say nothing. A lot has changed.

However, as it was in my time, and regardless of the level, these bright-eyed kids are still learning the basics.

Kicks and running…sometimes

Practice begins with a fight – what better way to appreciate individual talent than to see it in a jumble of limbs, such as when Calvin and Hobbes get into a fight.

Out of the chaos, some clarity.

One of the guys is the real Dax McCarthy, running around midfield with a mop of red hair, getting stuck at every opportunity. On the ball he bury his teammates with his trademark (and possibly only) move: shrinking.

The other looks more like Yaya Toure with glasses – eighty percent legs, steps as high as some of his teammates, and enough power to move the proverbial pile. The ball is always at his feet, as are the footprints from the defeated teammates.

Although most of the young people here are very much like my child: growing in their body, trying to figure out how to rotate their hips to hit the ball with the instep of the foot (and content themselves with toe poking when ninety minutes of practice is exhausting). next) and asking if we could “practice hat-tricks”. This is a real request, and frankly, I don’t know what it means exactly. But we were practicing juggling because one of the Coopers asked if there are more Coopers and the team record at the time of publication is 3.

Seriously, it’s the most organized league I’ve ever played in, which is almost frustrating.

There are over 50 teams of different ages, divisions, and genders, all led by volunteer parents who (mostly) hold some level of USSF teaching license. Our first training session had a head coach, an assistant(s) and another part-time assistant who goes back and forth between this age group and his older twin boys’ age group. Nothing is accidental, everything is planned, and while much of it is player-driven, even that is by design.

Parents who didn’t volunteer huddled under the trees in pursuit of the expanding shadow. I can’t guess a single piece of orange, but they check a lot of emails and take quick glances at the playground to make sure the younger siblings present are all right.

My youngest of this group, and she runs across the field all the time to show me the flower she picked or steal some of her brother’s water. Next year it will be her turn to put on her boots, and since she’s half ballerina, half midfielder… well, opponents, beware.

Is too much enough?

By the time we start to drop, we’ll have almost as much practice as my high school football team had in the entire pre-season – again, that’s the lowest U9 level we’re talking about here.

PSP Frequent Commentator ale pachyderm repeatedly spoke in these pages about the state of the American football pyramid, rarely in enthusiastic terms. Too much structure, like what I’m seeing first hand. Because of this structure, there is too much predictable or methodical play and an emphasis on winning the game, but not enough “beautiful play” in the process.

He is certainly not the only voice in this choir of reforms.

To be fair, we’re not in the thick of it what yet, but it is clearly on the horizon. We went from lumpy four-way matches on a dirty city field to this is A few months is a lot to learn.

And still…

As a kid, I would have killed for a field like this (I was confident that I would end up being the starting quarterback at our local college, despite the fact that I didn’t like being beaten and beaten in high school). in 140s for weight). Three supportive dads showing me how to plant my foot to make a controlled pass? Incredible – who could ask for more?

And the truth is, I remember all I had good coaches along the way (almost as many as bad ones).

So maybe that’s great, maybe those are the three things I want (time with my kids, further football education, and time away from laptop or work email), maybe I’m the grumpy old man here.

Let them play!

Or maybe not, as we’ll have two practices a week and games on Saturdays in the fall, plus an intramural league for girls, in which I’ll also be an assistant coach. Maybe I shouldn’t get ahead of myself.

My goal for them? To get out of the house, play organized sports and more than anything, try different every season. It’s more manageable.

To this end, one practice, and so far it has been extremely successful…

But ask me again in the fall.

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