BANGOR, Maine — In the youngest age groups for club sports, the emphasis is on skill-building rather than winning.
With that in mind and the relative scarcity of Under-9 youth soccer teams north of Waterville, the fall travel programs in the North Division have included their U9 players with the U10 team.
Except one. The Bangor Soccer Club U9 team competes in the U10 division, but it has one team made up of only U9 players.
“We did that intentionally,” said Bangor Soccer Club President Rod Towne.
“We evaluate them to see if they have the ability [and the numbers] to play up [an age group]. We did the same thing with our U9 girls last year as well as the boys this year.”
They certainly have the numbers. The combined total for the U9 and U10 boys teams is 32 players, according to the team’s website. The two U10 teams also include some U9 players. Games are 6-on-6, including each team’s goalie, and there are 11 players on the U9 team.
The setup seems to be working as hoped, according to Peter Richmond, one of the team’s two coaches.
“There are probably 6-8 kids that have played together the last couple of years, but some of the additions have just really fit right in. They’re meshing very well,” he said.
The major upside to maintaining them as a unit is that experience.
“They get the opportunity to play more years together,” said Towne. “They learn each others’ moves, who the best passer is, the best dribbler, who has the best shot. They learn to play together better.
“They get an extra year with their own [age group] on the team.”
It doesn’t happen every year, but, said Towne, “When we can do it, we like to do it.”
“I’m hoping we can keep this team together through all of the age groups,” said Richmond.
The other factor in making the decision is the emphasis on skill-building rather than wins and losses.
“The U9, U10 and U11 teams are noncompetitive. They don’t keep score [except in tournaments],” said Towne, then added with a chuckle, “The kids know who had the goals and what the score was, but that’s not what’s important.”
And at this age, the size difference tends to be insignificant.
“I coach a U9-U10 mixed girls team this year,” said Towne, “and except for a couple who might be taller than the others, you can’t tell the difference.”
The same applies to the boys, but not for much longer.
“When they get older, for instance from the U-12 to the U-13 teams, a year makes a big difference,” Towne said.
The younger kids, who are 8, are not intimidated playing against 9-year-olds.
“Not really, unless the kids are much bigger,” said head coach Troy Neale. “They’re only a year older or so, but they’re not really intimidated at this point. … In their mind they’re just trying to figure out the game. It’s kind of hard to worry about more than one thing.”
“We do it only because it’s noncompetitive,” said Towne. “They’re only out there to learn skills. The coaches are there to find something to focus on besides the score.”
Richmond is encouraged by how well the team has picked up new skills or improved on the ones they learned previously.
“I think that we thought this was going to be a little bit of a learning year for them because they’re 8 years old playing against teams that are mixed with 8- and 9-year-olds,” he said. “I think we thought we were going to take our lumps this year a little bit, but we … lost our first three and have gone 6-0-1 since, so obviously the kids are doing really, really well.”
Neale and Richmond have learned long explanations are not the best approach.
“They’re usually receptive, but they’re attention span is not very long,” said Neale. “You have to get your point across and do it quick.”
That’s where having experienced players helps.
“The first week or two, even our first few games, the kids were all over the place in that traditional grouping and running and following,” said Richmond. “Since then, we had a few kids that knew to spread out and stay in their positions and they’ve been helping teach some of the kids that don’t have as much experience.”
Towne enjoys seeing that progress.
“It’s kind of fun to see their early development,” he said.
Some of these boys and girls eventually will play at the high school level.
“Both John Bapst and Bangor High have benefited” from the fall travel program, Towne said.
And there will be more than enough players to go around, based on this year’s turnout.
“I think we have a record turnout. I’ve been saying that a lot lately,” said Towne, who also oversaw a record-setting turnout of more than 900 players for the Bangor Parks and Recreation Department’s spring program. “This just naturally follows that.”
Eastern Maine Youth Lacrosse wishes Murphy well
A key supporter of the rebirth of the Eastern Maine Youth Lacrosse program this year has taken a new job out of state.
Former Husson University lacrosse coach Tim Murphy extended excess equipment to the group, and some of his players — men and women — ran demonstrations of the sport during registration, and he conducted coaching clinics later.
This summer, Murphy took the men’s lacrosse post at Curry College in Milton, Mass., and the Eastern Maine Youth Lacrosse has extended its well wishes and thanks.
Tell us your stories
The Bangor Daily News produces youth club sports reports year-round and we are asking team coaches, league administrators and others involved to let us know of potential stories.
The stories generally will be centered on the travel level rather than the house level. Ideas could include team stories, league stories, tournament features and possible features on players, coaches, officials and so on.
Sports include, but are not limited to, hockey, soccer, football, basketball, baseball and softball.
Coaches and league administrators also will be able to submit their own stories and photos to the BDN website.