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Soccer: The Beautiful Game

I’m convinced that the soul and the center of Hicksville is Cantiague Park. And why not? Every weekend it’s a beehive of activity ranging from tennis matches, hand ball games, basketball and baseball games, swimming, hockey and of course ‘the beautiful game’ called soccer. Cantiague has two professional soccer fields that are perfectly manicured and begging to be played on. And they were. This weekend was the finals of the East Meadow Soccer Tournament which is one of the largest youth soccer tournaments in the nation, sponsored by the US Soccer Federation. There were 18 boys and girls teams in the finals and a large staff of referees.

Two of the refs were Steven Orozco and Randy Vogt who told me how soccer had been growing and has now become the second most popular participation sport in America with 25 million of us watching this year’s World Cup.  I also met and interviewed Joe Codispoti who along with Tim Bradbury is the head coach of Rockville Centre United, a U16 boys club.  This U16 team has a group of standout players led by  Jack Graziano, AJ Codispoti and Pat Basile who have been playing together for six years.

I asked the coach what is the secret to soccer and he quickly said “Above all else the team must have chemistry in order to win. In soccer there are no set plays. The game is too chaotic so the ability of each player to intuitively know where his teammates are is crucial to winning. We try to teach it by having the offensive team always play together so they learn about each other’s skills and tendencies. Soccer is strictly a team sport and not an individual game.”

He also told me that in today’s world the kids are faced with so many distractions and that it is the coach’s job to help them to maintain focus and motivation. He tries to remind the kids of the long term benefits of elite soccer which includes entrance into the nation’s best colleges.

I know plenty about team dynamics in soccer having been the team psychologist for the New York Power of the Women’s United Soccer Association. When I met with and worked with these pros the issues we dealt with included fatigue, anger, team conflicts and the waning of confidence. But I liked what Joe told me about the importance of team chemistry.  Soccer requires an instinctive feel for where your teammate is. It is a game about the other and not the self.  It’s a lot like watching a flock of birds in flight. When one takes flight they all take flight. When one bird turns they all turn. They have perfect ‘team chemistry’. And when you see that with a soccer team you see a team that wins and it becomes ‘a beautiful game’. And fun to watch.