Volume 75, Number 30 | December 14 - 20, 2005

Villager photo by Stephanie Kanarek

From left, former DUSC player Gabby Smith, Coach David Smith and current player Laura Solow

Girls recreational soccer program is exceeding goals

By Judith Stiles

As Polly Carr was grabbing her first baby bottle of milk, 7-year-old Gabby Smith of Greenwich Village was eagerly stepping out onto a soccer field for her first real match, in the Downtown United Soccer Club’s all-girls recreational program. Now, in what seems like a blink of an eye, the program is celebrating its 10-year anniversary with Gabby Smith still playing soccer at age 17, and Polly Carr, now 10, kicking the ball with her mother, Coach Shannon Carr, and budding assistant coach, her 7-year-old sister, Cally Carr.

In many ways, Downtown United’s programs have become the epicenter for good family fun that revolves around organized matches, as well as parents and children playing casual pickup games together. The new fields at Pier 40 have become an ad-hoc town square for hundreds of families. Dave Smith, the girls’ soccer program director and veteran coach, notes with pride that within a decade the girls recreational soccer group has grown from 40 to 175 girls. The families have built a history with each other and the kids have forged long-lasting friendships through soccer.

Smith, who has coached his daughter Gabby’s team for all 10 years adds, “The continuing growth of our soccer program is good for the kids and good for the community. It provides our children with a sense of belonging, being part of our neighborhood, and it truly does foster friendships.”

The end of the fall season marked the sunset of Gabby Smith’s games at Downtown United, as she is a senior at Bard High School, and in another blink will be off to college. Just as Gabby will pass the torch to girls like Polly, Coach Smith will pass the whistle to Coach Carr, who will readily continue the tradition of emphasizing teamwork, good sportsmanship and skill-building, in a program where winning games is not the biggest priority. Long gone are the days of picking aggressive team names such as the Bulldogs, Wildcats and Stallions. Instead, in the spirit of the program, Coach Carr has given her winter U-10 (10-years-old-and-under) division names such as DUSC Dash, DUSC Dart and DUSC Dare.

Although there is a thriving winter girls’ soccer program at DUSC, Polly chose to join team Dusc Dash in the co-ed division, with her mom at the helm coaching, and her sister Cally in tow, dubbed the “assistant” because she gets to hold the clipboard. Their first game was held at Chelsea Piers, on an indoor turf field that resembles a hockey rink. Team Dash faced off against DUSC Dare for two 25-minute halves, with four field players plus a goalie on each side. The pace of the game was brisk with an even flow of players subbing on and off the field at any time. Although few of the players have had any formal instruction or regular practice, they all had an amazing instinct for how to win the ball, pass the ball and score goals, as if they were a bunch of European boys (plus Polly, the lone girl) playing street soccer just for fun. Coach Carr and Team Dare’s coach, John Kent, shouted lively encouragement and positive directions from the sidelines, which established a good-natured tone to the play.

Oddly, during this soccer match, the dynamic of parents shouting from the sidelines was missing because Chelsea Piers has the unique structure of keeping all parents behind a Plexiglas wall, where shout-outs are muffled. This created a relaxed atmosphere of uninterrupted soccer, but more important, it has prompted a policy review of guidelines for parental behavior at DUSC soccer matches. DUSC and the Cosmopolitan League are vigorously discussing how to implement a game-day structure that quiets the parents and creates a positive atmosphere of play, similar to Polly’s and Gabby’s games in the recreational division.

Coach Smith, a former hockey goaltender for Brown University, believes in sending obnoxious parents home, but he knows that problem will most likely not occur with a strong coach, because the coach sets the tone for even-tempered games.

At the end of Dash versus Dare, Coach Carr congratulated her team for the win, although she did not discuss the final score of 6-4. Instead, she chose to pose questions about what they learned in the game, asking, “This time when you played soccer, what worked well?” The players spontaneously answered that it was a better game when they didn’t block the goalie’s vision, when they passed the ball more and when they ran more and moved around on the field.

When they finished the discussion, Coach Carr had her assistant Cally bring out the tactics clipboard, which by now had a drawing of the field with childish scribbling all over it. “I hope you had fun,” said Carr smiling as she held up the clipboard full of scribble-scrabble for the players to contemplate.

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