Equal Time: A soccer program for all local kids

Have you been to the Aldrich Lane soccer fields recently, say between 3 and 4 p.m.? You may have seen our Red Bull trainer, Chris Colley, surrounded by a huge pile of 5-year-olds, not quite learning the game of soccer.

Chris is on his knees — at 6-3 he’s still miles above the tots, long arms outstretched, pretending to be a terrifying sea monster, tamed only by kicking a soccer ball into his side. These children will not have a win/lose record this season, nor learn the rules of the game and certainly not one is seen as the next Lionel Messi, the greatest soccer player in the world today.

Their squeals and the applause of their parents are reminders of what fun soccer is. This is how we prefer to start off our smallest players. Show them what a friend the soccer ball is and allow them to just have fun, kicking, running and taming that “sea monster.” Elite soccer? Not quite.

Then, as the children get older, we have taken an approach that has been proven effective in both strengthening their skills — athletic skills as well as important life skills that include team consciousness, dealing with the ups and downs of winning and losing and, yes, competition.

Recently, there’s been a great deal said about our club in this paper, in columns, an opinion piece and letters from individuals. We would like to take this opportunity to address some issues we have with all that.

Two years ago, the Mattituck Soccer Club reinstated assessments, a three-day soccer extravaganza where we look at all the young people in our club, initially in age-appropriate groups. It was made clear to all coaches that any team that opted out of the process would not be supported by the club to register in the Long Island Junior Soccer League, the umbrella organization for virtually all youth soccer on the island.

There were other options, of course, and other leagues. But LIJ was only available to those teams involved in the assessments that committed to fielding teams in fall and spring seasons. That information was to be handed down to all families, explaining that we needed to look at players in their own age groups, not within their teams, to better assess the proper placement for each child. There are many criteria to decide which team or age group a child should play with, such as playing history, age, skills, size and strength and even car-pool needs.

We did not discuss “breaking up” teams, as that was not a consideration. We didn’t discuss fielding boys’ teams in Mattituck and girls’ teams in Riverhead. The idea is contrary to our goal of placing as many children as possible in the best position for their soccer development.

We do not support the notion of promoting elite teams and players to the detriment of the others. We consider all our teams elite, from premier level to division 7. Each and every child deserves as much attention as we can offer.

As to the teams competing in Sag Harbor preferring to play their games in Mattituck, it was their decision to pull children from our community and base them elsewhere. The organization we and our youth are part of, LIJ, will not allow teams to play home games on foreign soil, no matter where the individual player lives. Games must be scheduled on club fields recognized and authorized by the parent organization, in this case LIJ.

Simply put, the league makes the rules. Today there are three local teams playing in Sag Harbor that were once part of the Mattituck Soccer Club, about 45 girls in total. Six approved coaches left MSC. We were sorry to see them go, but as in any organization sometimes differences of opinion lead to change.

Finally, the approved fee increase for travel teams last season was $50. Of that, $35 was given back by MSC toward new uniforms. The club has clearly communicated in writing, as well as in monthly meetings, detailed financial information and has always met with any coach or parent to discuss specific questions about club finances.

The MSC board is confident in the direction we’re taking the sport of soccer on the North Fork. Our professional trainers and volunteer parent coaches are committed to our youth of all ages and skills. The MSC is not the cheapest soccer option on Long Island, but it is the cheapest option offering the caliber of professional training we do.

Buy cheap shoes, get bad feet. We are a darned good pair of cleats.

We sincerely welcome all players to our annual player assessment sessions, to be held the week of June 4. Dates, times and locations will be posted at or for placement in our fall programs.

Mr. Batuello, a Cutchogue resident, is a member of the Mattituck Soccer Club board of directors and submitted this on the board’s behalf.