Youth soccer league approaches peak in popularity |

Youth soccer league approaches peak in popularity

Finding people who want to play soccer is not a problem; the biggest task facing the local American Youth Soccer Organization is finding room for all of them.

AYSO’s season begins Saturday practically bursting at the seams, with 29 boys and 26 girls teams, all of which are full. Over the past two decades, soccer has grown in the community, and the growth is reaching its peak.

“We have a great turnout, and with the Women’s World Cup, everybody wants to play,” said Terri Shehadi, the head coach of the league’s board of the directors – and thus head coach of all the league’s head coaches.

Randy Volkmar, the assistant regional commissioner for the group, agreed:

“It’s been a steady growth because of the fields,” Volkmar said. “When it comes down to scheduling, we can’t grow any further than we already have. We’re pretty much at our limit right now.”

The league still needs a few coaches to accommodate the interest of all the players: Many parents are called, and frankly, many are chosen. Shehadi has filled all but one head coaching slot in the age divisions she’s overseeing, but the AYSO has methods at its disposal to fill the other vacancies, from calling parents of the players on the roster to looking for other candidates. As such, the league welcomes many first-timers into its ranks.

“Once they’re into it, they’ll do fine,” Shehadi said.

Even though the coaches must find everything from referees to practice fields, these days are the easy ones. Next year, the standards for incoming coaches get tougher: For the year 2000, coaches will have to go through much more stringent background checking and much more comprehensive training before assuming control of their teams.

So they may as well get involved now. To help first-year coaches along this year, Shehadi leads coaching clinics from 6-7 p.m. every Thursday at the Bijou field.

“We teach them things they have not learned yet because they haven’t coached before,” Shehadi said.

That means answering all questions first, then discussing the best ideas for coaching in the league from the previous week. Clinics cover everything from holding a child’s notoriously short attention span, to starting practice for the first time, even to finding a niche among football, high school sports, cheerleading, adult softball and 54 other youth soccer teams in the town. The last of the three may be the toughest trick to pull off in Lake Tahoe.

“That is huge in this town,” Shehadi said. “The fields in this town are very few, so if you take a corner here and a corner there, you’re very lucky.”

All the questions, plus having to schedule their own referees, adds up to a situation that can be overwhelming for first-year coaches. Shehadi, though, described them as eager to learn. Most, like Shehadi, come back to the league after their first year of coaching.

“I think probably three quarters of them do,” said Shehadi, who started coaching when her daughter – now 20 – was 4 years old. “I really think we get repeat coaches.”

“You kind of get hooked,” she said. “You get a good, positive group, good feelings and you learn.”

The regular season runs from Saturday through the second week in October, when the league changes gears. While the AYSO is competitive – and certainly has produced some competitive alumni, like the local U14 all-star team that recently rolled through an Auburn tournament with a 32-1 goals-against margin – it aims its focus on skills.

“What we do is, until Oct. 10, we just play games,” Volkmar said. “We keep score, but we don’t keep track of scores.”

After Oct. 10, teams enter a double-elimination playoff tournament. The format gives coaches the chance to move players around to find their best skills without having to worry about wins or losses.

“It’s much more relaxed,” Volkmar said. “It just works better for everybody else involved.”

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