Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Season kickoff — Youth comp league soccer springing into action

By Jenny Neyman
Redoubt Reporter

Come this weekend, about 150 Kenai Peninsula kids will kick off a rite of passage for spring, even if there is still snow on the ground.

It’s soccer season, ushered in by Kenai Peninsula Soccer Club tryouts Friday and Saturday at the Kenai Central High School gym. The club soccer program is a more competitive level of play than recreation leagues, and it isn’t affiliated with school sports programs so the season lasts longer into the summer, from April into August. It’s for ages 9 through 18 on 11 local teams. Teams practice or play games at least four days a week during the summer, and travel to tournaments in Anchorage and Fairbanks two or three times a summer.

It is a time commitment, but one that is well-rewarded, said Paul Ostrander, coach of the under-13 girls team Riptide and KPSC board member.

“It allows kids that maybe want to play at a more competitive level than, say, rec leagues available around here, to travel around the state and play against other comp teams. There’s a great amount of soccer skills that they gain, and I think that playing competitively and committing to something like this can really build up a kid, too. For example, my oldest daughter. I think it’s done wonders for her self-confidence and ability to compete, not only in athletics, but in school, as well,” Ostrander said.

Shelby Daly, a senior at KCHS, has been playing comp league soccer since she was in sixth grade and now is trying out for soccer teams at college next year, either at Pacific Lutheran University in Tacoma, Wash., Corban College in Salem, Ore., or Northwest Christian College in Eugene, Wash. She said she’s enjoyed the level of play and the opportunity to travel.

“In comp soccer you go out there and try to win. It’s a way to keep pushing yourself to be a better player,” she said. “I really like the traveling and getting to become friends with people in other cities. That’s really been enjoyable.”

Daly’s played volleyball and basketball, as well, but neither have the appeal of soccer. Volleyball is a mental game, she said, with too much sitting around waiting and analyzing, and basketball can also be restrictive in where you go and what you do.

“With soccer you can make it up as you go. You can fix it and kind of take the game into your own hands and it’s not so back and forth, like basketball,” she said.

That aspect of the game probably has a lot to do with why soccer is growing in popularity on the peninsula, Ostrander said.

“When it comes to match time it’s really on the players. There’re no timeouts in soccer. The coach has very little control during matches, other than subbing,” he said. “I think kids like the fact that it’s more independent. In soccer, it’s up to them. It really generates creativity on their part. It’s very free-flowing and kids need to understand what’s going on and they need to react to what the game gives them. It’s a very different type of game than the others.”

That may be a foreign concept to people who grew up in the area, since soccer hasn’t been around for all that long.

“If they grew up around here there wasn’t really soccer, so people have a hard time understanding what the appeal is, but the kids, they absolutely love soccer if they play it and get involved. It’s just something they love to do,” Ostrander said.

This season promises a unique chance for players to improve their love and aptitude for the game. Ostrander said the KPSC is bringing a coach up from Georgia with an A license — the highest level attainable — for six weeks this summer to work with all the teams. Chas Frisco was here last year and worked with the program, and since then has gone on to bump his B license up to an A, which makes the opportunity even more exciting for local teams, Ostrander said.

“It was really good. Several teams really could see a huge benefit,” Ostrander said. “The kids reacted to him very well. Personally, I could see a huge benefit from the time he spent with the team. And it really helps our coaches out, they learn so much just by observing him coach the kids. The coaches glean so much from his time and some of the techniques and things he’s stressing continue on after he’s gone.”

To Ostrander’s knowledge, this is the first time the area will see an A-licensed coach.

“He knows the specific skills that the kids need to learn to really get their game to the next level,” he said.

From Aug. 9 to 15, KPSC teams will have a chance to display their skills to local soccer fans and the larger comp league community as the central peninsula hosts the comp league state tournament.

Kenai hosted the state tournament in 2007, which brought an estimated 1,500 people to the area.

“It was a huge undertaking for the club at the time, but all the reports from 2007 was it was a great success and very well run,” Ostrander said. “For 2009 to happen a ton of stuff needs to occur. We’re always looking for people willing to volunteer and help out. It’s a 100 percent volunteer effort. There’s an amazing amount of work that needs to go into it.”

As with club participation overall, there’s benefits to the commitment.

“It’s a huge deal for kids to be able to sleep in their own beds have that home field advantage that you enjoy,” Ostrander said.

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