A coach explains the rules of his unique, pirate themed training games.
By James Kinneen
Hometown Weekly Reporter
On Saturday morning, the fields around Walpole Library were full of tiny children playing soccer, courtesy of the Walpole Recreation Department. But while they may grow up to become the next starts of whatever Walpole High opts to name its sports teams, there were some rough moments in the beginning stages of the children’s soccer journeys.
The groups were split into two fields to maintain social distancing. In the four-year-old group, kids were given pool noodles and told to chase a player in front of them. Then, they were supposed to chase the person in front of them with a ball at their feet, with the pool noodle in their hands. Here, some future problem-solvers realized it was much faster if they used the pool noodle as a hockey stick to hit the ball down the field. It was creative, but the clever problem-solvers were quickly corrected when the pool noodles were taken away, and the kids were supposed to chase the others with the ball at their feet only.
The five- and six-year-olds were using a pirate theme to learn the sport. To teach them to stop the ball by putting their foot on top of it, the parent coaches explained that it looked like a pirate, so whenever they said “pirate” the group was supposed to stop the ball. This went pretty well, though there was some rather un-pirate-like crying.
Dylan Gusmini, who was running the four, five and six year old group explained that there were some changes, but that this is a longstanding Walpole Recreation activity.
“This is the youth soccer program through the Walpole Rec Department for 2-6 year olds. It looked different last year because of coronavirus, but the Rec Department has been doing it for a long time. Everyone has to wear masks and we try to keep the number of people on the fields to a limited number.”
Despite people’s fears of COVID-19, the event had very high participation numbers. “96 people signed up on this field, not counting younger kids," Gusmini explained. "If you count them, it's probably about 150 people. Everybody gets 45 minutes each, then we clean for 30 minutes before the next group comes in using a disinfectant spray. But it’s nice to see everyone enjoying themselves.”
On the baseball fields, there was, as Chris Mackenzie explained, a “Different age group, with a different skill-set." While the younger kids were obviously smaller in stature, the most striking difference were the soccer balls they were using. "The balls are smaller," Mackenzie noted, "to go with how they’ve got smaller feet.”
These two- and three-year-olds were far less organized than their older brethren. Many parents held their child's hand while playing, which isn't a big deal, as Mackenzie explained that even without COVID-19, there is no competitive league for kids these young.
“There’s not anything competitive. At this age group, they’re just learning the very basic skills of soccer and more just trying to get them to want to play soccer.”
They appeared to be having fun, even if the little ones' minds wandered and they tended to tire of repetitive drills rather quickly. Still, every soccer player starts somewhere. And for the future stars of Walpole soccer, it looks like they started Saturday morning at Stone and Morgan Fields.