Griswold Soccer Club youth program gives pint-sized players a positive start

By Janice Steinhagen - Staff Writer
Griswold - posted Mon., May. 13, 2013
A group of older students in the Griswold Soccer Club's youth program builds teamwork skills as they try to dislodge a ball on a cone. Photos by Janice Steinhagen.
A group of older students in the Griswold Soccer Club's youth program builds teamwork skills as they try to dislodge a ball on a cone. Photos by Janice Steinhagen.

After spending the last 10 minutes tearing round and round the athletic field, the dozen or so preschoolers are finally settled into a wriggly circle. They’re relatively quiet until their coach, Ed Conn, asks them what it is that pirates say. “Arrrgh!” they shout in unison.

“What pirates do is sail around looking for treasure,” says Conn. He tells the kids that they’re going to be trying to collect a “treasure” of gold earrings – then he takes two plastic soccer cones and sticks them over his ears, eliciting delighted giggles.

The Griswold Soccer Club uses the guiles of a pirate to sneak soccer fundamentals into fun and games for the under-age-6 group. As the children leap to their feet and fetch their balls, Conn and his teen assistants urge the children to use “tiny, tiny touches” to move the ball over to the pile of “treasure.” Before long, more cones adorn little ears as the children plunge into the game.

The Griswold Soccer Club sponsors the spring soccer program, which is open to children as young as 3 and is structured to build on the young players’ experience and age levels. Conn said that the eight-week program includes residents of Griswold, Lisbon, Voluntown and Preston, and this year included about 120 kids.

At the under-6 level, “they’re really learning more about socialization and playing together,” he said. “But they get the soccer skills too – we start sneaking it in.” Still, it’s a light-handed approach at that age. “If they don’t have fun, they won’t come back,” he said.

At the other end of the field, groups of 9- and 10-year-olds are divided into teams. One squad is instructed to knock a soccer ball off a cone with a second ball, while the opposite team defends the target. The group’s young coaches urge the players on both sides to talk to each other as they maneuver the ball. “As they get older and their attention span gets better, it develops more into soccer skills and drills,” said Conn.

The program’s 10 adult coaches are assisted by 25 teenage players from Griswold High School’s boys’ and girls’ varsity and JV soccer teams. Teen coach Brock Kraemer said he’s been volunteering in the program for the past two or three years. This year he’s working with the youngest group. “A lot of times we’ll have little kids who are more quiet, and we help them out,” he said. “These guys are more just getting used to soccer. It’s more just to make the kids have fun. With the older group, we do more drills and actual soccer basics.”

Heidi Willard, another teen coach, said that the kids gain confidence as the weeks go by. “The first week, some of them wouldn’t even touch the soccer ball,” she said.

Fellow teen coach Kylie Flynn agreed. “It’s nice to see the progression,” she said.

Teen coach Kaitlyn Jarvis said she has a good time working with the kids. “I love soccer. I’ll do anything for it,” she said.

Kurt Steiger watched from the sidelines as his 4-year-old son, Cole, kicked the ball down the field. He said that Cole’s enthusiasm for the sport is uneven. “He’s a little reluctant sometimes, but I promised him fishing after – a little motivation for him,” he said.

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