by Paula M. Riley
On sunny Saturday mornings for the past few months, families from around the area gathered at New Covenant Campus on Germantown Avenue. Shouts of “Good job,” “Way to go” could be heard across the expansive green lawns scattered with colorful leaves.
With the same intensity of those twice their ages, 6- and 7-year-old boys and girls kick, punt, throw and block soccer balls as part of Chestnut Hill Youth Sports Club (CHYSC) U6 Coed (under 6 years old) and U7 Coed (under 7 years old) intramural soccer program.
Designed to introduce players to the fundamentals of soccer, the real focus on the intramural program is fun. Children generally run from their cars to the field, small soccer balls in hand, proudly displaying uniforms designed like the world soccer powerhouses of Spain, Brazil and Argentina.
They are greeted by volunteer coaches, both parents of players and community members who want to help out and share their love of the game. For the first 30 minutes players work on a variety of drills or – depending on the day – run in circles around the field.
The second portion is every child’s favorite – the games. Each team splits up into two or three smaller groups so that all play is 3-on-3 or 4-on-4.
“Small sized games are a great way to learn how to play soccer,” said parent and CHYSC board member Tom McLaughlin.
“Kids learn with the ball at their feet,” he said. “That’s how the kids play in South America and England. It’s a better way to learn and much more fun.”
Soccer programs in surrounding communities often involve six-on-six play for this same age group five and six year old children. McLaughlin believes this is just one of many reasons CHYSC is so popular.
“It’s all about touching the ball,” he said. “This is great for their development.”
Chestnut Hill resident and mother of three Eileen Remus agreed with McLaughlin. Her 6-year-old daughter Grace plays on team Spain.
“Splitting up into the small groups is a fabulous way to play,” she said. “Since there are only three of them, they get the ball more often and are always involved in the play. Plus, Brendan May (commissioner) keeps it very organized.”
Grace Remus plays on a team with classmates from her school as well as children who attend other schools. Throughout the entire CHYSC Intramural Soccer Program (U6 through U15) there are 17 schools represented. CHYSC offers an opportunity to meet new friends and build community.
Along the loosely marked field sidelines, parents and grandparents sit and cheer for the players. As the season evolves though, the conversations on the sideline seem to increase as parents become friendlier. With coffee in hand, week after week, 60 minutes pass with many laughs – both among parent conversations and while watching the tireless enthusiasm and energy of the players.
So much more happens on those fields other than kicking a ball. Players learn the game, develop confidence, and, like their parents, meet new friends. All of this is the result of countless volunteer hours.
Creating the teams, handling uniforms, setting up goals at 7 a.m., serving as grounds crew on dew sprinkled fields, and coaching the players requires more than a hundred volunteers for the CHYSC Intramural Program.
U7 Team Portugal Coach Mike Gonzales, of Chestnut Hill, started coaching five years ago after signing up his daughter Rory, he answered the call for volunteers and has loved every minute of it.
“I want to be part of my kids’ recreational activities, and this is a great way to do it,” Gonzales said.
Team Argentina Coach Chris Bartolo agreed.
“Coaching U7 soccer has been a tremendously rewarding experience for me, not only in allowing me precious quality time with my daughter in a new and unique way, but also in the opportunity to introduce young children to an exciting sport while instilling a sense of confidence and fun,” he said. “There is a great sense of accomplishment when certain players pick up on a fundamental skill, but it feels far more important to see the entire team excited to be on the field the next weekend, smiling and laughing.”
Gonzales believes that until families get involved in the program, they often don’t realize that CHYSC is an all-volunteer effort. For more than 50 years, parent participation has sustained the CHYSC program. While some other community soccer programs pay their coaches and crews, CHYSC relies heavily on this participation.
“When it was called The Fathers’ Club, it was more obvious that parents were doing all the work,” Gonzales said. “Today, we want to get out the word that everyone is welcome to play sports through CHYSC, and we always need more volunteers.”
On the field, it seems that coaches have as much fun as the players. They giggle at the mishaps and cheer loudly for each move. They answer basic questions, such as “what is a corner kick?” and review rules often – “No, it doesn’t count unless it goes inside the net.”
Saturday mornings end with snacks, juice boxes and more camaraderie. This past weekend marked the end of the U6 and U7 season. Medals were awarded, coaches were thanked, photos taken and players reminisced about those nine exciting Saturdays they shared.
One happy seven year old, with medal flapping around his neck, started to walk towards the parking lot, but soon looked back and yelled out to his teammates, “Can’t wait to see you next season!”
For more information visit www.chsyc.org