So, I’ve been noticing these self-contained, 4-sided, street soccer fields all over town, but I wanted to know who’s been doing all the heavy lifting…and why.
Where’d these things even come from, and what’s behind this street soccer movement?
First, I tracked down Jeremy Vannatta, VP of Mettle Sports, an Evanston startup focused on soccer development and community. Turns out Mettle Sports set up all these moveable soccer fields — or “pitches” — around town, encouraging everyone to jump right in and play.
Then I got some answers.
According to Vannatta, Mettle Sports is working to change the face of soccer in the U.S., with plans to place 2,000 of these pitches over the next 3-5 years.
According to the company’s literature:
Street soccer will dramatically improve soccer development — and participation rates — by fostering creativity, quickness of thought and improved skills, while providing new and exciting pathways to the sport, especially for minorities and in underserved areas where playing space is limited and access is cost-prohibitive.
I recently asked Vannatta to describe Mettle Sports’ primary objectives: Soccer Development, Community Development and Social Good. Here’s what he had to say…
You simply get to be a better player because you are never more than 60 seconds away from the ball. You are ALWAYS either with the ball deciding what to do with it, looking to move to a place to receive the ball, or getting in position to defend against it. Soccer’s a game of decisions, and you get to make a thousand decisions in 10 minutes. It’s like playing several games at once on a full pitch. You’ll have as many transitions in a 20 minute game as you’d have in a full 90-minute match on a full-sized pitch.
Game intelligence, awareness and decision making should be developed simultaneously as technical skills, but traditional soccer training has focused first on technical – then tactical – skills…and we wonder why kids can’t put their training into effect in games.
Also –take a look at Evanston’s James Park right now. How many acres of green space are there? And how many kids are out there playing? Why so few? Well, for one, the goals are locked up, and the fields are overused. Sorely overused. Why not solve that problem by putting in a permanent pitch with turf and lights for $80k vs. building a full-turf pitch with lights for $1.5M?
Moreover, how do 6 kids play soccer on a full-sized turf (or any) field? Throw one kid in goal and have 5 kids take turns shooting on them. Spend 80% of your time chasing the ball, 10% in goal, 10% shooting, which amounts to 2% per kid shooting the ball.
When we put up a pitch, kids are out there ALL the time! EVERY community with a population greater than 25,000 should be making these available; most communities need more than one.
It’s about safe places to play…and very little space needed. Kids in elementary school, middle school, high school, college…even adults… can all play the same game in the same place. Seriously. Name ONE other place where that can happen.
The walls are very forgiving and keep the ball in bounds, allowing play to continue so there is no “out of bounds” or turnover. Even if the other team ends up getting the ball, limited restarts prevent time for animosity among teammates to take hold.
Plus, parents of younger players stand outside and watch. And talk. And make connections (building community). That’s a pretty cool thing.
In addition to providing pathways to soccer for kids who’ve been shut out of everything associated with clubs (due to timing, costs, variability of coaching, etc.), we hire all at-risk or second chancers 18-25, providing them with good-paying jobs and mentorship/leadership training. That’s been super rewarding. We’ve seen guys go from barely being able to look us in the eye, not knowing how to set up a pitch, to becoming foremen and leading their peers in managing the process.
But the very best things to witness?
A kid who’s never played before, finding the game fun to play.
A younger kid developing bravery and fierceness, playing with older or more experienced kids.
You see a light going off where they think, “If I can hang with these big kids in the pitch, then my troublemaking peers really no longer bug me.” There’s a confidence that can’t be coached emerging organically from that pitch.
- Mettle Sports was launched in 2016 by Neal Levin (CEO) with Jeremy Vannatta (VP)
- They’re looking to round out their capital investment
- Follow them on Twitter and Facebook
- Pitches have been sold in Green Bay, Wisconsin. The Chicago Park District has committed to purchasing 4 permanent pitches in one location. They’re now in the final stages of discussions with several other park districts and several pro clubs.
- Financing options are available.
- Pitches are modular in design and can be placed in almost any space, but their typical pitches are 18×27 meters or 13×21 meters.
- They’re showcasing a pitch at MLS All-Stars vs. Real Madrid on August 2nd outside Chicago’s Soldier Field.
- They’ll have a pitch at 2017 ODP camp in July in Michigan with over 800 of the best soccer playing kids in 13 Midwestern states and more than 100 staff members on hand.
- They recently finished a series of 3 neighborhood soccer festivals in conjunction with Chicago Park District and KICs Soccer Club
- They’ll have pitches at the Justin Wynn Soccer Tournament on Lazier Field in Evanston, September 2017
- Pitches work without any incremental programming, but parks departments, soccer clubs, camps and others can always find ways to program on them. Mettle Sports is developing a curriculum for using the pitches as coaching tools, but their best advice to coaches is to let the kids play, and to say as little as possible: the pitches are designed to encourage immediate feedback, and the kids learn the game — quickly — by doing!
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