The worldwide popularity of soccer is undoubted. There’s scarcely a corner of the globe where the game is not played. More nations belong to the Federation International de Football Association (FIFA) than to the United Nations. There are over 301,000 clubs, 1.7 million registered teams and over 240 million registered youth and adult players around the world.
Over 15.5 million people in the United States participate in soccer. National youth organizations have over 3.8 million registered participates under the age of 19. More than six million females play. There are over 600 teams and 12,000 female players at the college level. More than 700,000 boys and girls play at the high school level.
A Natural Game
One reason for soccer’s popularity is that it’s a natural game to play. If you roll a ball to a toddler who has just learned to walk, their first instinct might be to pick it up, but they are just as likely to kick it instead. They’ll soon discover that a kicked ball will go farther and it’s also a fun thing to do.
Simple and Exciting
Many factors contribute to soccer’s popularity. The rules are very simple. Anyone can understand the basics in just a few minutes. It doesn’t require much to get a game together. A few players, a ball, something to use as a goal, and it’s game on. Soccer can also be played and enjoyed at a very early age. It’s fun for children and spectators alike because there is plenty of action and excitement on the field. In addition to scoring goals, it’s also exciting to see players deftly dribbling through defenders, completing pinpoint passes to teammates, and making exciting runs down the wings.
Getting Game Ready
Another reason for soccer’s popularity is that it doesn’t require pricy equipment. Once you’ve got a ball, some cleats and a pair of shin guards, you’ve got pretty much everything the pros have. “By making cost-savings equipment packages of high-quality balls, shin guards, cleats and socks available, brand manufacturers are now making soccer even more affordable for players of all ages,” says Adidas.
Adidas offers a wide variety of machine and hand-stitched soccer balls. Choose the one that best meets your game and training requirements. A ball with high durability, all-weather construction is ideal for a 5-year-old just learning the game. A 12-year-old honing her ball handling and passing skills might prefer a ball with a softer touch. Serious players will opt for a ball FIFA-tested for circumference, weight, rebound and water absorption.
Another consideration is size. Adult-sized soccer balls are marked with a 5, smaller size 4s are more appropriate for players age 8 to 12, and players under 8 will probably fare best with a still smaller size 3 ball.
Shin guards are essential for keeping young and older legs safe from all those other flailing limbs out there. The best combine lightweight construction, a hard protective front plate, and a soft synthetic lining. Guards without strapping usually include a compression sleeve. Some offer adjustable widths and built-in ankle protection. “To ensure a proper fit,” says Adidas.
Adidas, Nike, Under Armour and Puma offer a wide selection of cleats for children and adults. Quality-crafted kid’s cleats feature lightweight, supportive synthetic leather uppers and outsoles designed to provide a steady grip on firm, natural surfaces. Different adult cleats feature asymmetrical lacing systems for better ball contact, leather uppers for a more natural fit, and advanced cleat designs for more aggressive traction, surer turns and sudden stops. When fitting a shoe for a child or adult, remember to lace it, hit the back of the heel onto the ground and then place the foot firmly down. If there’s one finger width of room across the area of the big toe, it’s the right size. If not, go up to the next size.
Soccer is hot, booming and a whole lot of fun. Cost-saving equipment packages from brand manufacturers now make it even more affordable for players of all ages. So, what are you waiting for? Get in the game!
The Coach’s Corner
Barry Brodsky has coached club and high school soccer for 15 years. He’s only one of the few coaches to guide both senior boy’s and girl’s high school soccer teams to state championships. Coach Brodsky was also voted Michigan High School Soccer Coaches Association (MHSSCA) Division One 2010 Boy’s Coach of the Year, as well as MHSSCA Division Two 2010 Girl’s Coach of the Year.
Q: What are the skills of the sport?
A: As a high school soccer coach I know players need to be extremely fit to play at a high level. Depending on the position, a player may cover over two miles during a high school game. Centers and mid-fielders work at a very high rate. Recovery time is precious. Foot skills and the ability to control the ball while dribbling, passing and receiving are also very important. Keepers need excellent vision, good eye-hand coordination, outstanding flexibility, and the ability to anticipate where a shot will go.
Q: What type of conditioning works best?
A: Interval training is the most effective. We combine 10 to 15 yard sprints with jogging for short distances. We try to simulate game conditions as much as possible, using rapid starts, stops and short rests between sets. Cross training with other sports is a plus. Hockey and basketball players make fine soccer players. Female soccer players who practice yoga and dance usually have superb strength and flexibility.
Q: What type of drills do you recommend?
A: We use a system called Coerver ball handling drills to teach players to change direction with ease while keeping their head up and the ball close to their feet. Passing and receiving with a partner, dribbling exercises and target practice all translate well on the field. There are plenty of drills one player can do to increase their confidence level with the ball. They can practice using the inside and outside of their foot, touching the ball only with their laces or the side of the shoe. They should practice rolling the ball back and forth, alternating touches only with inside, outside, laces, heel and top of the foot.
Q: Does size matter?
A: Winning the ball in the air is important, but good soccer players come in all shapes and sizes. The game offers ample opportunities to put yourself in a position where you don’t need great size to accomplish great things. Small players can and do excel. Most of the time it comes down to conditioning, confidence and heart.
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