However, unlike Little League where it’s hard to find a father who didn’t play baseball at some point in his life, a generation gap exists in soccer. Many parents never played soccer when they were younger and are unable to pass down the necessary skills needed by these young kids to fully understand the game.
That’s one of the reasons Spanish Springs boys soccer coach Rob Moreland created the Advantage Program, which is part of the Spanish Springs Soccer Club.
“The reason I started it is because we kept getting AYSO kids up in high school, and they were lacking some skills,” Moreland said. “We figured if we put the best coaches together with the younger kids, it would give them a nice foundation of technical ability, passing, receiving and shooting. Stuff like that. I think it has gone well. A lot of kids are enjoying themselves. Parents are enjoying themselves.”
The Advantage Program is now in its second year of existence. It runs for 10 weeks from the middle of March to the middle of May and two days a week, girls and boys from ages 4-10 get together at Lazy 5 Regional Park to learn skills and technique as well as play games for about an hour and a half.
The Advantage Program focuses on building the necessary skills needed to succeed at the next level. It is believed that putting the youngest players together with high level coaching will provide players with a solid base of technical skills. Moreland is a USSF “A” license coach and has played and coached professionally. SSHS girls varsity coach Mike Faker is also a coach in the program.
Around 60 kids are in the program this year.
Moreland admits since most of these kids live in the Spanish Springs area, he does have a slight ulterior motive. He wants to help these kids become strong soccer players, so if they grow up and play for the Cougars, the SSHS coaching staff will have players with greater skills. Moreland also says this program is about building up the entire area and preparing young athletes for playing in club, high school or even if they decide to go to the AYSO.
But another reason Moreland created this program was to help the parents. Moreland chose the name Advantage because there is a rule in soccer by the same name. If a foul is committed on an offensive player, but the offense maintains possession and is still heading toward the goal, the referee allows play to continue. Many parents don’t realize that’s a rule. Go to a high school game and you will probably hear parents screaming at the refs about many calls or no-calls.
“It’s crucial for the parents because they start to understand what the game is really about instead of just kicking the ball toward that goal,” Moreland said. “I want them to understand the advantage law, so they aren’t yelling at the refs when their kid gets fouled. It’s so the refs have a better time, too. Because we’re losing them at the same rate as we’re losing kids at the older age groups. Parents are making it real bad. I’m trying to make it so parents are more educated, so they’ll know. The uneducated ones are the ones who are complaining to the refs, and the refs think ‘I don’t need this.’ That’s the other reason wanted to get this done. To help the parents understand.”
The first half of each practice is spent working on skills and doing drills. The second half sees the kids break off into teams and play in a game atmosphere. What Moreland envisions for the future of the program is the other soccer clubs in the area, like from Reno or Tahoe, will create similar programs and they can all get together on Saturdays for jamborees where everyone plays each other.
While some might wonder what kind of skills a 4-year-old can really grasp at that age, Moreland has seen the light bulb turn on for a lot of these children quickly.
“It’s amazing. They catch on real quick,” he said.
Faker, who is coaching the 7- and 8-year-old boys and girls, has noticed the same thing and enjoys the younger age groups.
“It’s a little different because I’m used to high school kids. It’s definitely a different ball game altogether,” Faker said. “We’re spending a lot of time working on ball skills like how to touch the ball with the right surface on the foot and dribbling the ball. Last year, I had the 7- and 8-year-olds, and we did a lot of stuff with (1-versus-1) and teaching kids some moves like fit-and-fake and step-overs. A lot of the kids picked it up.
“It’s kind of funny because when kids at the high school level show up, they don’t have the ability to throw a fit-and-fake or some sort of move to beat someone 1-v-1. I’ve got kids who are 7 years old trying it, which is pretty cool.”