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Organized soccer is missing the mark, says Pizarro


When Rick Pizarro talks about soccer, you listen.

Pizarro has been coaching the sport for 45 years at all levels from professional to high school, both boys and girls, to recreation, and refereeing at the collegiate level.

Coaching stops in Germany and other parts of Europe, Woodlawn High (1961-1984, his longest stint), Catonsville High, Springfield (Mass.), Arbutus recreation program, junior varsity boys at Brooklyn Park and Centennial High in Howard County where he won two state girls titles, indicate a genuine love for the game.

And that fervor for soccer has not waned. Currently, the 67-year-old Pizarro is the head coach of the Archbishop Spalding girls soccer team, and he has a rather interesting philosophy on the sport.

Soccer purists and those coaching at the recreation level might be surprised at Pizarro's take on soccer.

Pizarro says that organizational or recreational soccer is doing more harm than good by starting kids out at ages 5 and 6 and then, playing them year round.

"I think our young kids are playing too much soccer," said Pizarro. "Kids playing practically seven days a week is too much for young bodies. They can't take the grind. Not even the pros play seven days a week. And playing year around, I'm against it."

That recreation mentality of repetition 365 days a year making better soccer players is all wrong in Pizarro's eyes. Grueling rec program schedules that have the kids playing in the fall, indoors in the winter and back outside for spring and summer aren't measuring up.

Pizarro said he has seen some very good players develop by merely playing high school soccer and indoors a bit and not club soccer the entire year. He said we need only to look at our men's and women's national teams, products of youth soccer, to understand why the United States doesn't win world titles.

"Our kids need to learn how to be creative," said Pizarro. "Americans are lagging in one-on-one and it shows on the national teams."

Pizarro doesn't just have the ability to recognize the problems. He also has the solutions, and some very good ones at that.

Pizarro said we should put the children into smaller groups, lengthen the goals and play on smaller fields. It works in baseball where kids gradually progress to the 90-foot diamond.

Most Little League programs start the kids in tee-ball, move to coach-pitch and eventually regular baseball. The concept, and it works, is to get the kids in the habit of participating and not being left out.

"High organizational soccer with little kids playing 11-on-11 is not producing results," said Pizarro. "The kids need to touch and handle the ball much more than they do and that's why we need four or five on a side, not 11-on-11.

"Kids would learn to be creative and how to excel one-on-one."

Pizarro drew a superb parallel to producing soccer creativity.

"Basketball. You see kids playing one-on-one, three-on-three, all the time on playgrounds, and look at the creativity it has developed in that sport," said Pizarro. "In pick-up basketball, the kids get to handle the ball and learn how to play.

"It would probably be better for our young kids to be playing pick-up soccer on back lots with four or five on a side than exposing them to organizational soccer where parents and coaches are too often guilty of unsportsmanlike behavior and taking winning too seriously."

Pizarro doesn't feel it is beneficial for high school players to be playing for their school team and on a club team at the same time.

"They need time off and playing other sports is good for them," said Pizarro.

The underlying theme of Pizarro's philosophy is to make soccer fun and promote creativity, not regimentation for kids who are just learning to tie their shoes.

' Makes sense to me.

Watch out for Yannuzzi

Only in his third year as the Arundel girls soccer coach, Paul Yannuzzi has more than earned the respect of his peers.

"I think Yannuzzi is a super coach, great motivator and that's why I say his is the team to watch this year," said Chesapeake's 11th-year coach Lin Sullivan.

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