AS much as playing for fun is the key element in any sport in a child’s life, there comes a time when that competitive edge eventually kicks in.
And whether you’re four or 14, I think the majority of us play for that competitiveness.
With regards to schoolboys and schoolgirls soccer, it’s not until U12 level that teams enter into a competitive league. Up until that point, most teams play opposition teams in a friendly, non-competitive atmosphere.
This is a fantastic way to introduce kids into the game, teaching them that the score does not matter, but instead, to enjoy the game and play with the freedom of confidence, having no pressure. Being able to rotate players without worrying about the impact of weakening the team, and instead allowing all players feel they’re been treated equally.
This is how sport should be played. But unfortunately, it isn’t. However, in saying that, and especially when I am a very competitive person myself, we shouldn’t always look upon being competitive as a negative.
Having a competitive nature prevents complacency or settling on past achievements. And this counts not only in sport but in life.
If we’re competitive, we can acknowledge and be satisfied with what we’ve achieved but remain motivated to always improve.
I recently met up with an old friend of mine Kieran McKeown and he spoke excitedly about his new involvement in helping out with his son Davin’s team at Leeside. He spoke about a great club, a great bunch of kids, and how he hopes his training ideas can make an impact as the lads enter their first year in a competitive league at U12 level.
I have no doubt he will achieve this, based on his history as a fitness coach.
McKeown decided to help out with manager Brendan McCarthy, who has been doing a fantastic job with this bunch of lads since 2013.
McCarthy is the current chairman of the club and it is a testament to the man he is, with his hands-on approach to helping his club to progress both on and off the pitch. And this is why McKeown was so eager to help out with such a great club.
“I am delighted to help in any way I can being honest,” said McKeown.
Leeside have two teams in the U12 Cork Schoolboys league and twice a week boys from the Little Island and nearby areas grab their boots, water bottles, shinguards and these days their hand sanitizer and head down to Leeside for soccer training for what’s guaranteed to be an enjoyable session.
Most of the coaches have been involved for a number of years, Odhran Stapleton, Ronnie Verdonschott, Paudie O'Sullivan but the arrival of McKeown has taken the fitness training to a whole new level that the kids are loving and rising to the challenge.
This season is their first competitive campaign and even though it has been thrown back by Covid, the commitment and enthusiasm did not wane one bit from any of the players.
“The lads have been absolutely excellent, especially during lockdown. They have all worked so hard and there’s huge credit owed to them and their parents. Currently, both teams train two nights a week and it is fair to say there is rarely anybody missing.
“It is great to see kids improving and see them learn new skills. You know from week to week they have been at home practising and you see the improvements when they arrive for training and that’s great. There is a great atmosphere at training as everyone who is there wants to be there and wants to improve and help each other out.
“There has been a huge commitment from everyone involved in the club at all age levels to keep going and to do so safely and within the FAI guidelines. This season we needed the introduction of Covid officers at all training sessions all of whom are both vetted and have completed the FAI Safeguarding course and again there was no shortage of people to get involved and coaches budding up with other age groups to help out.
“The Covid officers for the U12s, Brendan’s wife Carmel, Paul Hammil and Mary Burke, who make sure everything is in order at every session and this allows the coaches get on with the serious business of schoolboys soccer.
“So quickly the lads go from playing non-competitive games to being in one of the most recognised leagues in the country. And they are loving that competitiveness.
"A real referee and goals counted definitely adds to the occasion for all involved. It doesn’t change our attitude about making training as enjoyable as possible for the kids and treating kids as fairly as they should be treated. That will always be the case here at such a great club.
“Brendan’s goal is always to give kids a chance to learn the game, develop new skills in a fun and enjoyable atmosphere while giving them the skills to go as far as they can in the game. He has been involved from day one when his son Eoin got involved and both he and Odhran, with his son Dara, started the current group way back in 2013."
Brendan, who played his own schoolboys' soccer with the now long-gone Wembley FC in the middle parish still loves the game. He feels it’s great to see kids out training, kicking a ball and learning about the game while making new friends and getting fit.
Yet the fun element always has to be there, as above all else soccer is there to be enjoyed.
"I am only new to the setup and although my training sessions will hopefully bring the kids to a new level, I am very much so on the same level as Brendan when it comes to making football all about fun. Because when you’re having fun, results will follow.”