My dad never played soccer. He taught me how to throw a football with a perfect spiral and also run the route to catch that throw. He taught me to shoot a jump shot, hook shot, free throw, and a layup. He taught me how to hit a slap shot and handle a hockey stick. And he taught me how to throw, catch, and hit a baseball. We would play for hours in the backyard, in our small unfinished basement, and in the street in front of our house. I didn’t play organized soccer till I was 7 and it was only in the coed recreational league. In fact, I didn’t play any organized sports till about age 10 or 12 and even then nothing was that serious or time-consuming until I got into high school. I hardly remember any of the soccer practices from my youth, but I’ll never forget the time spent with my dad playing sports.
One day he gave me a soccer ball, which actually was really just a white rubber kick ball with a black soccer ball design printed on it. We kicked the ball around in the back yard and it was a lot of fun. We didn’t have cones or pinnies. There was no portable goal or net. I didn’t wear cleats and neither did he. It was pure and simple – just me, my dad, and the ball.
When my dad wasn’t home I would kick the ball against the foundation of my house over and over and over again. Many kids today may think that was boring, but I enjoyed it. I challenged myself to use both feet. I made up games to hit a certain number in a row without missing or trying to hit a particular spot I had chalked out on the concrete. My mom wished I hadn’t enjoyed it as I’m pretty sure I decapitated all of the marigolds, impatiens, and pansies she had planted around the perimeter of the house.
One day my dad came to the rescue of the flowers. He taught me how to strike a soccer ball in the air even though he had never really done it himself since he wasn’t a soccer player and never played the game. We stood in the backyard while he showed me where to place my foot, what part of the ball to strike and to lean back to give the ball a lift. I never asked him how he knew what to tell me or show me and I never questioned his ability to do so. I just remember him saying “Chip it! Chip it!” I practiced with my dad and on my own, and finally got it.
I was ready to take on the foundation of the house again to see if I could chip the ball over the flowers, hit the wall, and have the ball come back to me. And I did it. I struck that ball over and over and over again without hitting a single flower. The flowers were saved! The siding on the other hand was another story. We had plastic siding on the house that was about 5 feet above the ground and hung over the cinderblock foundation. The challenge then became trying to hit the ball above the flowers, off the foundation, and below the siding. I was able to do it most of the time, but I definitely broke a few pieces of siding.
I make my living coaching soccer and spending a lot of time teaching youth players the skills of the game. When they ask me what they can do to get better and improve their skills, I always tell them to play in the backyard or at a local field with their parents, siblings, neighbors, teammates or friends. Today’s youth is so accustomed to structure and being told exactly how to play, but it’s time to put them back in charge of their games and play time. Don’t get me wrong because I love coaching so I’m not suggesting that organized training goes away; rather, my hope is that kids will take the opportunities to play on their own and with others without always having the need to have a coach present.
My dad may have never played soccer and didn’t know much about the game, but the time spent with him playing soccer and other sports were some of the best times of my life. I may not have become a superstar player, but I learned to love playing and practicing just the same.
Danielle Fagan is the Founder and Director of Soccer DCF LLC (www.soccerdcf.com), which offers camps, training, clinics and supplemental programs; and is dedicated to developing players on and off the field. She holds the USSF National “A” License and NSCAA Premier Diploma among many other certifications. Danielle coaches all ages including the FC EUROPA U11 girls and the 1998 Eastern Pennsylvania ODP girls. She is the former 2-time PIAA state champion coach of Conestoga High School. Danielle has a BA in English and an MBA from Villanova University where she was a former player, captain and assistant coach for the women’s soccer team.