Street Soccer

taos street soccer

taos1-200px Distant clouds redden in the evening sky and buzzards circle lazily as they prepare to roost for the night. Closer, a car door slams and young voices chatter happily. The children approach the field, some confident and eager, some shy, clutching their mother’s hand. They tighten their laces and adjust their shin guards. They play monkey in the middle with their buddies or linger near the entrance, not ready to join the melee. Then there is a shout, “Bring it in!” All the kids run to the middle of the field. Street soccer is about to begin.
Twice a season, Taos Youth Soccer League sponsors Soccer Under the Lights at the Taos Eco Park, under the direction of Michael Hensley. “This is an opportunity to return players to the pickup game,” says Hensley.

Players are randomly divided into teams for a 10-minute, short-sided match. The players can make-up whatever rules they want. There are no scores, no coaches, no referees. Older kids, acting as mentors, are on hand to help in case one of the players is a little shy or isn’t sure which location they are playing on. But otherwise, they are hands off. After each match, the kids are called in to be re-divided into new teams for the next match.
taos3-200px Parents are encouraged to go on a little date or run errands for the 2 hour time slot. If they can’t bear to leave, they have to stay off the field and stay silent. This is a chance for the kids to just play, for the sheer joy of it. In rural areas such as Taos County, people often live miles apart. The spontaneous street game just isn’t possible. “TYSL aspires to provide the opportunity of organized spontaneity for the youth in our community,” says Hensley. “It’s difficult today for youngsters to have a pickup game since the streets have too many cars, the sandlot now has a mini-mall on it and parents are reluctant to let their children go blocks away from home on Saturday to play.”
So far, the only miscreants have been rogue parents sneaking onto the field to yell directions to their children. But the older kids delight in ratting them out and soon they are politely escorted off the field. The kids themselves have no problem with the lack of adult regulation. They are too busy meeting new people, teaming up with different players of varying ages and abilities and of course, playing soccer. Says Hensley, “They are learning from their peers. It does a lot for their confidence.”
taos5-200px It is fully dark by the time the fifth game is winding down. A bat flitters overhead, hunting insects drawn by the lights. The players slowly emerge from the field, exhausted but happy. Short-sided games can be a lot more strenuous and no one gets to lurk on the sidelines. But exhausted or not, everyone asks the same question about street soccer: “When is the next one?”

- by Stephanie Stynes

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